Over 75% of us have a natural mild anxiety around a visit to the dentist. Are my teeth clean enough? Will the dentist have to do something painful? What the heck are they doing when they poke and prod around in there? Will I have a cavity or something else that will require further treatment? These are natural anxieties that typically rest in the background of our minds, and do not prevent us from doing what we know is best for us – making that dental visit! For some people, though, a visit to the dentist can be a stressful, and even terrifying proposition.

Formally known as ‘odontophobia,’ dental phobia is a formal psychologically recognized condition defined by a “marked and persistent fear” of visiting the dentist or having dental work performed. If you think you or someone close to you may suffer from this phobia, you’ve found the right resource. This month’s blog will focus on the reasons some people may fear dentist visits much more than others, and what can be done to manage the fear enough to be willing to make the trip, and eventually deal with even complicated dental procedures. We are going to be as honest as we can about this subject – no sugar coating!

What of the Symptoms of Dental Phobias?

Studies and prevailing literature around dental phobias provide a list of possible symptoms that could indicate you or someone you love may suffer from a dental phobia. These include many symptoms typically associated with extreme fear, including:

  • Shortness of breath, hyperventilation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Feelings of dread, terror, or panic
  • Panic attacks
  • High blood pressure and rapid heartbeat
  • Trembling
  • Dry mouth

Why Some Are Much More Afraid of the Dentist than Others

Personality: It might be easy to assume that most dental fears spring from previous unpleasant experiences with dentists, especially in childhood. Though this can certainly be the case and is touched upon below, this is the exception to dental fears rather than the rule. Formal studies indicate that dental anxiety tends to be associated with anxiety in general. People that suffer from anxiety or depression are much more likely than the general population to greatly fear dental visits.

Fear of Pain: This is an easy one for most of us to understand. Nobody wants to be in pain, and unfortunately some dental procedures involve necessary short term pain and discomfort to achieve long term health benefits for your mouth. The greatest common fear associated with dental pain involves dental injections. About a third of us have real trouble with that one, but those with dental phobias find the thought of an injection nearly petrifying. Other identified top fears around dental visits include root canals and teeth extraction (this probably doesn’t surprise you!). Fear of pain is something almost all of us have, but when that fear reaches a certain level it can cause legitimate phobias around dental visits and prevent some from receiving the mouth care they may urgently require.

Negative Experiences with Previous Dentists: Although not as significant a factor as personality or fear of pain, previous experiences with certain dental practitioners can exacerbate fear of dental visits. For example, dental fear tends to be more intense if a previous dentist made rude or angry remarks. Previous painful procedures likewise increased the risk of abnormal fears.

Word of Mouth: (no pun intended!) Unfortunately, it is not simply one’s own experiences that can lead to elevated fears. One study demonstrated that those who could recall negative stories from friends and family were also at a higher risk of harbouring elevated fears around dental visits.

Age and Demographic Considerations: Some studies showed that children have higher fear levels than adults and seniors, and women tend to experience higher dental anxiety levels than men.

Treating Dental Phobias

Chances are, you are still reading this post because you recognize the importance of good dental care despite the fear associated with a dental visit. If you or someone you love suffers from a dental phobia, and this has become a problem preventing you from achieving proper dental health, we urge you to contact a professional to explore one or more of the following strategies. We’d be happy to help make a referral.

Because the risk for dental phobias is so closely associated with anxiety in general, many of the approaches to treating it have much in common with treating general anxiety. The most common approaches include:

Relaxation/Exposure Therapy: This approach is based on learning to manage anxiety while initially being exposed to simple, limited dental procedures. The focus is on the anxiety, and helping a client learn to relax and manage the intensity of their feelings. As a client becomes better able to deal with small, simple procedures, more complicated/daunting dental tasks are introduced and the process is repeated. This proven clinical method eventually allows clients to undertake treatments they previously considered unimaginably terrifying (yes, even root canals).

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT is a widely recognized are utilized process for helping people who suffer from mood disorders, including phobias. The focus here is on a client’s thought patterns, and gaining an understanding of how they view and cope with threats and stressful situations. The therapist works with the client to help them understand the narrative that their mind plays out when introduced to stress, and then provides alternative tools to allow them to think about situations differently and reprogram their inner narrative. CBT has proven highly effective in the treatment of dental phobias.

Modeling: This technique involves having a client observe another person who is undergoing and coping with a stressful dental situation. By observing another person successfully complete a procedure in a calm and relaxed manner, the client begins to feel empowered that they too might be able to undergo the same treatment as well.

How We Address Dental Phobias at Stonegate

We hope that by virtue of writing this post that we have convinced you that at Stonegate we take dental anxieties and phobias very seriously. Delaying dental visits due to anxiety can result in a long term negative health outcome for your mouth, and we will work with clients to help remove this challenging obstacle. Our trained and sensitive staff members will work with you no matter what your fear levels are, and make professional referrals when necessary, to help you remove fear as a stumbling block to receiving the dental care you deserve. Contact us today to arrange a safe, confidential, and sensitive conversation around how we might be able to best assist you or your family member deal with what is a challenging but highly manageable issue.

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