Managing Dental Phobia for a Positive Oral Health Care Journey

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No one deserves to suffer from these fears, or from poor dental health as a result.

Do you or someone you know suffer from dental anxiety, or dental phobia (a strong fear of the dentist)? Well, you should know that you’re certainly not alone.

A phobia is a considerably stronger form of fear, and is regarded as a type of anxiety disorder that can cause severe distress and avoidance. So, you can imagine the degree of impact a dental phobia condition can have on a person (and ultimately, on their oral health when it causes them to put off necessary dental work).

More about dental phobia

Dental phobia, also referred to as “dentophobia” or “odontophobia”, can cause sufferers to feel fear and anxiety even when simply thinking about visiting the dentist. It is an extreme fear that is unreasonable and out of proportion to the reality of the situation, as any compassionate and experienced dentist would never want to cause harm to their patient in any way.

Symptoms of dental phobia can range from mild to severe, including the possibility of chills, shaking or trembling, dizziness and lightheadedness, excessive sweating, panic attacks, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, nausea, an upset stomach or indigestion, and of course, emotional responses such as crying while thinking about dental visits, and insomnia/inability to sleep the night before a dental appointment.

Potential causes of dental phobia

Possible factors that may contribute to a person’s dental phobia condition include the following:

A past negative experience: Dental phobia commonly results from a past painful, scary or traumatic experience with a dentist/ at a dental office; especially a bad experience that occurred in one’s childhood or formative years.

Family history/ genes: A person’s risk of developing any phobia increases if they have a parent or family member who suffers from a phobic or anxiety disorder. Furthermore, a person may be genetically more predisposed to anxiety if they have a gene mutation. Feelings of embarrassment or shame: Some people suffer from embarrassment or worry when it comes to their own oral health state or condition, and may feel unsettled about having the dentist or hygienist so close to their face and mouth.

Feelings of loss of control: For some dental phobia sufferers, performing necessary patient compliance tasks such as holding the mouth open for extended periods of time can arouse uncomfortable feelings of helplessness or a loss of control.

Common fears experienced by people with dental phobia

Someone who suffers from dental phobia may be afraid of the following:

Pain: It’s normal for certain dental procedures to come with a level of discomfort, in addition to the recovery phase that follows. So naturally, people with a particularly higher sensitivity to pain may be more fearful of these sensations.

The dentist: For people who strongly associate negative feelings with the dentist, namely due to a past traumatic experience, this may be a leading fear for a patient.

Blood: Many people suffer from a fear of blood, also referred to as hemophobia. They may feel fearful about the potential presence of even minor bleeding that can occur during a dental treatment.

Anesthetic or needles: A person may be fearful of their numbing anesthetic not working and not protecting them from pain during a procedure, or may also fear the prick of the needle during administration. Additionally, some people are afraid of the side effects of the anesthetic, such as numbness in the mouth and lips.

Choking: People may also fear potentially gagging, choking, or not being able to breathe or swallow during numbing.

Certain noises or smells: Common dental office noises, such as the drill or other instruments, can be triggering for many dental phobic people. Additionally, common dental office smells or aromas can also cause a person to feel anxious.

Treating and managing dental phobi

Fortunately, there are many techniques or solutions available to patients suffering from dentophobia, that can help them experience relief or even help them to overcome their fears. These solutions include:

Sedation dentistry: When it comes time for your dental procedure, the dentist can provide medication to help calm your nerves, or to fully sedate you if necessary. Mild to moderate forms of sedation include oral sedation, nitrous oxide (commonly known as laughing gas) and conscious IV sedation, while complete IV sedation/ sleep sedation can help the most anxious of patients get through their visit.

Forms of distraction: The dentist may provide the patient with a source of entertainment for distractive purposes, such as offering music, a movie or TV show to occupy them and help them relax while they’re in the dental chair.

Exposure therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and hypnotherapy: People suffering from severe dental phobia can seek help from a mental health professional who may use these therapies or a combination of several to help the person work through their fears.

Relaxation therapies: Practicing deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques before one’s treatment, such as in the waiting room, can play a role in helping to lower anxiety and stress levels.

Bringing a friend or family member: Many patients find it helpful to bring along another person to their dental visit for support.

Arrange your appointment for the morning, or a less busy time of day: Visiting the dentist at a time there are fewer other patients at the office, and therefore less noise, can also be helpful.

How can I overcome my dental phobia and finally get the dental care I need?

In addition to seeking more long-term forms of therapy with a mental health professional, and practicing any of the other aforementioned remedies, patients with dental phobia should find a dentist like our warm and compassionate sedation expert Dr. Samuel Toong to look after their smile.

Choosing a dentist who is patient and understanding, who listens intently, and who also offers sedation dentistry options to help make the visit more pleasant, is crucial for every person suffering from dental phobia.

Asleep for Dentistry is a judgement-free dental practice devoted to providing a positive and stress-free oral care experience to patients.

Our Dr. Toong is a “fear-free” dentist with extensive experience treating dental phobic patients. He will listen to your concerns and take the necessary steps to ensure you have the most comfortable and pleasant dental care visit possible!

Schedule your visit at Asleep for Dentistry today, or simply call us with any questions you may have - and let us help you conquer your dental fears for once and for all.