Oral health is one of the most important elements of the overall health conditions. However, perhaps just as prevalent is the fear of the dentist. This common fear or the associated anxiety can stem from a number of correlated overwhelming emotions that can be directly linked to worries over your oral health as well as potential bad experiences or nightmares that you might have come across at the dentist’s office in your past.
For some people, however, such fears can also take the shape of dentophobia, which is otherwise known as odontophobia. Like all the other existing phobias, this one too is marked by an irrational or extreme fear of objects, situations, or people, and in this case, dentophobia is the irrational fear of visiting the dentist or his office.
Considering the significance of oral care and dental hygiene to your overall health, a fear of the dentist should not bar you from regular checkups and cleanings. Having said that, we do understand that it might not be as easy for everyone to just simply visit the dentist.
In this article, we will discuss the potential underlying causes as well as the treatments and possible coping mechanisms that might be the ground zero for helping you conquer the fear of the dentist.
Fear Vs. Phobia
Fears and phobias often become synonymous with each other and are usually discussed interchangeably, but these two states of mind have some marked differences between them. Fears can be identified by a strong dislike that may cause avoidance, but it is not necessarily something that you might think about until the thing you fear presents itself.
Phobia, on the other hand, is a much stronger form of fear. Phobias are considered a category of anxiety disorder and are known to bring out extreme distress and avoidance- so much so that these phobias can even interfere with your daily life.
Another specific feature of a phobia is that it is not something that likely causes you any harm in reality, but can voluntarily help feeling that it will.
When applied to the context of visiting the dentist, being fearful could also mean you dislike visiting them and try to put off or postpone your appointments until necessary. You might also dislike the feeling and the sounds of the instruments used during cleanings and other procedures, but you put up with them anyway.
Dentophobia on the other hand can present itself in the form of a severe fear that you avoid visiting the dentist altogether. Even the slightest mention or the thought of the dentist might trigger moderate or severe anxiety or panic. Nightmares and panic attacks become very common in situations and contexts like these.
The treatments and causes for a fear of the dentist and dentophobia have many common elements. Having said that, a legitimate phobia of the dentist might require even more time and effort to cope with.
One of the primary reasons behind fearing a dentist or a dental checkup is negative past experiences. The chances are that you might have been afraid of the dentist when you were little and the traumatic memories and feelings stuck with you as you grew up.
Some people are also terrified of the noises of the tools used by dentists and dental hygienists for cleaning and examinations. So, thinking about these could incite a part of the fear as well.
A phobia, by a textbook definition, is an extreme and irrational fear. However, this might also be directly associated with a negative emotion or experience in the past. Perhaps you have a painful memory, experienced discomfort, or a general lack of empathy at a dentist’s office, and that has possibly manifested itself as a significant aversion to seeing another dentist in the future. It is estimated that approximately 2.7% of men and 4.6% of women struggle with dentophobia.
Besides fears and phobias correlated to past experiences, it is also possible to have a fear of the dentist primarily because of the concerns that you seem to have about your oral health and dental hygiene. If you have a toothache or a case of bleeding gum perhaps, or you just have been avoiding seeing a dentist for several months and years which is now making you fear that you might receive some bad news.
Any of these concerns could cause you to avoid going to the dentist.
For milder cases of fear over visiting a dentist, the best thing is to visit the dentist instead of avoiding or procrastinating it. If you need to undergo a complicated procedure you might as well ask to be sedated so you’re not awake during the whole procedure. While it is not common among dentists to sedate a patient on request, you might be able to find a dental health expert who can understand your reasons and can accommodate your wishes to be sedated.
If your phobia is backed by clinical legitimacy, the act of actually visiting a dentist is much easier said than done. Like other phobias, dentophobia too may be tied to an anxiety disorder, which might need additional medication attention and simultaneous therapy.
Exposure therapy is a type of psychotherapy, which is also among the most effective remedies to ease dentophobia, mostly because it involves visiting the dentist on a more gradual basis.
You can start by visiting a dentist without actually sitting down for an assessment. You can also try initial online consultation. Then, when you are sufficiently comfortable you can then build on your visits with partial exams, X-rays, and cleanings and then a full appointment at the end of it.
Medications are formulated to treat dentophobia by themselves. However, a few categories of anti-anxiety medications might be able to alleviate the symptoms as you are working through exposure therapy. These are also chemically formulated to ease some of the more physical symptoms of your phobia, such as high blood pressure.
Tips To Stay Calm
whether you’re ready to face your fear full-on or you’re getting ready for exposure therapy to gradually see the dentist, we have a few tips enlisted for you to help you stay calm and composed during an appointment with your dentist or dental hygienist. They are:
Visit your dentist in a comparatively less busy part of the day, like the early morning hours. There will be a smaller number of visitors and also fewer tools making noises that could invoke your anxiety or panic. Also, the later you visit your dentist, the more amount of anxiety will build up throughout the day, in anticipation.
Bring noise-canceling headphones or earbuds with music to help you relax.
Ask a friend or a loved one to accompany you during your appointment.
Practice deep breathing and other meditation techniques to calm your nerves.
But it is important to remember that it is all right if you wish to take a break at any point during your visit to the dentist. it might be helpful and easier for everybody if you establish a “signal” or a “safe word” with your dentist beforehand so they know when to stop.
You can choose if you wish to continue with the visit after a short break or return another day when it feels right.
How To Find the Right Dentist for You
One of the most important qualities of a competent dental health expert is the ability to understand your fears and aversions. You can ask for a recommendation from your doctor or your friend about a caring and empathetic dentist. another way could be to call up the dentist’s office and ask if they specialize in working with people struggling with anxiety or dentophobia.
Before you go in for an exam and cleaning, you may consider booking a consultation to determine whether the dentist exemplifies the type of understanding professional you need.
It is also important that you truthfully open up about your fear and the possible reasons behind them so they can understand your fears well and make you feel at ease. The right and competent dentist will take your fears seriously and accommodate your special needs.