Toothache! It can strike at any time – especially when you least expect it. For many people, it spells discomfort, an inconvenient trip to the dentist, and an even more inconvenient dental bill. But usually, the tooth gets repaired, and the pain goes away.
If you have dental phobia, toothache ushers in the start of serious anxiety. You’ll start worrying about your teeth getting worse – or, they may have been deteriorating progressively over time. But despite the necessity of your treatment, you just can’t bring yourself to go to the dentist.
You may feel alone in your fears, but you’re not. Dental phobia affects a lot of people. But just how common is it? And, can the anxiety be managed?
Let’s discuss dental anxiety and what you can do to overcome it.
What is dental phobia?
Dental phobia is the fear of visiting a dentist and receiving treatments. To many suffers, this also includes everything else that’s associated with dentistry including the tools a dentist uses, and even the atmosphere in the clinic.
You may think that your fear of the dentist is irrational. It’s not. It’s a common problem that is very rational.
It’s natural to feel anxious or scared when you’re in a situation where you may feel pain or discomfort. Toothache and worries over the need to have complex procedures can also add to those worries.
What causes dental phobia?
Throughout our lives, unexpected negative incidents occur. Some of these occurrences can leave their mark on us for years to come. We may be apprehensive about similar situations in the future, or we may completely avoid them.
In severe cases, even just thinking about these incidents can cause trauma responses such as feelings of anxiety and even panic attacks.
Dental phobia is often caused by a previous negative experience, either during, or as a result of a visit to the dentist.
Some people can’t pinpoint an exact incident that triggered their fears though. In some cases, the phobia may have developed at a young age, or be related to a wider, more general sense of anxiety or other mental health problems.
Dental phobia may include one of more of the following:
- Discomfort around drills and other dental tools
- Anxiety around having no control during treatment
- Unease being in close proximity to the dentist
- Phobia of injections
- Concerns about choking
- Worries about anaesthesia
- Embarrassment over oral hygiene
- Distress over a potential diagnosis
- Dislike of the clinical environment or use of latex gloves
How common is dental phobia?
Surveys carried out by Dental Phobia reveal that up to 53% of the UK population are scared of visiting their dentist. Moreover, 17% of the population have such a bad fear of dentistry that they refuse to visit or get essential dental work done.
That’s more than one-in-six people potentially missing regular checkups and not getting necessary dental treatments when they need them the most.
But with so many people’s lives being affected by these anxieties, what can be done?
Overcoming dental phobia
If you’re experiencing dental phobia, you run the risk of deteriorating oral health. A small problem now could become severe in the future. These issues could affect your ability to chew, smile, laugh, and talk. Tackling dental phobia head on is essential.
The first thing you should do is find a sympathetic dentist who understands your needs and can adapt the way they work to minimise your anxiety. Search for a Dental Phobia Certified dentist.
Dental Phobia is an organisation that works with dentists that want to help people with their fears. Using their website, you can find a suitable dentist in your area and learn about some of the ways they can help you.
Talk to your dentist about your fears. Call or get in touch online with your chosen clinic to book an appointment during a quiet time of the day, and let them know you’re anxious and may need additional assistance.
Discuss coming up with a way of communicating with your dentist during treatment to let them know you’re feeling particularly anxious. Hand signals will let the dentist know you need to stop so you can take a break until you feel better.
When you go to your appointment, feel free to take someone with you that you trust. This could be a partner, family member, or a friend. Have support when you need it the most can make a difficult situation bearable.
You may experience heightened anxiety levels during your appointment. Plan for these eventualities and come up with a few coping strategies beforehand. Breathing exercises and grounding techniques are all good ways of calming yourself back down and handling anxious thoughts.
Distractions help. If you enjoy music, bring something with you to listen to. Some people find fidget toys helpful.
Finally, if you’re having any treatment, ask your dentist about sedation. Sedatives won’t put you to sleep, but they will calm you down and help you have more of a positive experience while getting the help you need.
Start fighting the fear
Unfortunately, dental phobia won’t go away on its own. But there are people that can help. Dental phobia trained dentists with the experience of dealing with complex anxieties are out there, and they want to support you while you get the treatment you need.
Head to the Dental Phobia website to find a dentist and access the resources that will help you understand and overcome your fears.
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To download a copy of our booklet Dental Anxiety & Phobia click here