Not all dental phobias are the same. Degrees of fear range from mild nervousness, right through to being too afraid to pick up the phone and make an appointment.
And the reasons we fear the dentist are just as varied.
For those living with conditions like anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a visit to the dentist can be a triggering event. Others may have been put off by a traumatic visit way back in the past or may fear relinquishing control as they sit down in the chair.
Whatever the cause, there’s one thing on which we can all agree: Allowing fears to get in the way of oral health isn’t the answer.
In fact, it could make things worse. The longer you leave between visits, the more work it takes to repair any neglect. Dentists call this the cycle of fear.
To break the cycle and get a handle on dental phobia once and for all, communication is vital. You’ll stand a much better chance of working with your dentist to overcome fears once you understand why they exist.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of dental phobia, along with the most effective responses.
Without a doubt, one of the most common causes of dental phobia lies in our past.
Many of the patients that I see who have a fear of the dentist often recount a childhood experience says Dr Goldstone from The Dentist in Leeds
Unfortunately, it only takes a single traumatic experience to kickstart a lifelong fear response to the sights, sounds and smells of the clinic.
This one is worth mentioning first because it can be linked to other dental-related anxieties, like fear of needles.
Visiting the clinic before your first check-up to take a look around and meet the staff could help you put some of these fears aside, especially if it has been some time since your last visit.
Clinics and attitudes have changed a great deal in recent years. Clinicians are far more accommodating and understanding of dental phobias than was the case even a decade ago. And many modern clinics have more in common with relaxing spas than with the sterile surgeries of old. Who knows – you may be pleasantly surprised!
Anxiety and Other Conditions
Conditions like generalised anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), agoraphobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), can make the most insignificant of everyday activities feel like an impossible challenge.
Dental appointments are no exception, and coping strategies will vary depending on your circumstances.
As always, open communication is essential – with both your chosen dentist and your therapist or health professional, if you have one.
Modern-day clinicians, have a far better understanding of mental health issues and other health barriers than in past years. Your therapist should also be able to provide condition-specific advice.
Start small. If you need major work, attending a checkup beforehand could help get you to get familiar with the unfamiliar environment. If the thought of even a general checkup is enough to have you running for the hills, ask your dentist to arrange a look around beforehand.
Loss of Control
Some patients find that sitting in the dentist’s chair sparks feelings of loss of control and helplessness – more common triggers for dental phobia.
Luckily, you’ll find most dentists happy to work with you on this. For some patients, an agreed hand gesture when things get too much can be enough to regain that all-important sense of control.
Dr Kunal Patel from Love Teeth Dental in Surrey says “dealing with loss of control is simple, we put our patients in control from day one, we give them a list of hand signals and by simply raising a hand we stop everything we are doing. Just by giving patients this option it gives them the reassurance that they need to get the treatment that they need.”
You may also want to take control of the environment by listening to a favourite CD, watching a film or even writing a shopping list.
If undergoing cosmetic treatments, take a look at dentists who offer digital 3D planning and virtual ‘smile previews’. These let you design your new look collaboratively and make sure there are no surprises when it comes to the big reveal.
Fear of needles (Trypanophobia)
Even those of us who love going to the dentist regard the needle with a mixture of fear and hate.
And around one in ten people has trypanophobia, with symptoms ranging from mild panic to fainting.
If either of these sounds familiar, it’s worth bearing in mind that only a tiny fraction of all procedures carried out in the dentist’s chair requires a needle-administered anaesthetic.
For those that do, technology has stepped up to give needle-phobics a much-needed break.
In some modern clinics, you’ll find a smart piece of equipment called The Wand, which is making the dreaded needle a thing of the past.
It’s every bit as magical as it sounds. The computer-controlled wand looks nothing like the needles you’ve probably seen and recoiled from in the past. It delivers a tiny amount of analgesic to the gum tissue before delivering anaesthesia beneath the skin.
The result is fast, painless, targeted anaesthesia delivered with less discomfort than the average electric toothbrush.
In short, if fear of needles has been putting you off treatment, it’s probably time for a rethink.
If a phobia is getting in the way of your oral health, take a look at dentalphobia.co.uk.
The site has a handy search tool to help you find a friendly phobia certified dentist in your area. They will be familiar with many of the strategies outlined above, as well as a whole host more besides.
The site also contains advice for dealing with dental phobia and taking the first steps to finally getting the treatment you need.
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