Dentistry and Dental Phobia
Dental phobia is a condition that leaves people terrified of going to the dentist. Most of those who have it are perfectly aware that their fears are irrational, but are still unable to do anything about it. With the right help, people with dental phobia can still get the care they need.
Fear of the dentist is common, but dental phobia is in a category all its own. It is more than feeling stressed while a cavity is filled, or your teeth are cleaned. It is an emotion so intense, people may avoid the dentist altogether. The terms “dental anxiety” and “dental phobia” are sometimes confused, or used interchangeably. Researchers who study the phenomenon say dental phobia is more than anxiety, and place it at the far end of a continuum of fear. In its most extreme form, people with dental phobia may only go to the dentist when they absolutely must – when their dental pain has become unbearable.
Why Does It Happen?
There is no single explanation for why some people develop dental phobia, yet many who share the condition have certain things in common. Most often, dental phobia is attributed to traumatic or painful dental experiences, usually early in life.
Other people trace their dental phobia to frightening stories they heard about dentists when they were growing up – how painful an extraction or root canal was, for example. Often, these scary stories came from their parents.
Still others with dental phobia cannot identify any particular cause.
Hard To Forget
Among those who could name a cause for their dental phobia, nearly half said it was the result of pain. Most of us are able to remember particularly painful events, even years after they happened.
Other reasons people have dental phobia include:
- Fear of injections, like a local anesthetic
- Fear that an injection won’t work
- Fear of the side effects of anesthesia
- A sense of helplessness
- Not everyone with dental phobia avoids going to the dentist. But they still cope with a range of symptoms, such as:
- Crying, or feeling sick just thinking about a dental appointment
- Sleeplessness the night before an appointment
- Elevated blood pressure
- Mounting tension while in a dentist’s waiting room
- Intense unease when dental tools are put in their mouths
- The urge to gag or vomit
What To Do
First and foremost, dental phobia must be met with empathy on the part of the dentist. Advising a patient to find their backbone, or keep a stiff upper lip, simply will not work and is inappropriate.
New patients to any dental practice are usually asked to fill out a registration form. This is a standard procedure, and it’s the perfect time to ask specific questions about whether the patient has any fear of dentists. If the patient answers yes, how strong is it, on a scale of one to ten?
Fortunately, more and more dental professional are becoming aware that dental phobia is a very real condition that deserves the same understanding and respect that other conditions receive.