Dental phobia, also known as dentophobia, or the fear of dentists, is one of the more common phobias. It can range from mild to severe, but is marked by an intensity that separates it from a simple fear. Untreated dental phobia can lead people to avoid the dentist altogether, with potentially devastating results to both oral and overall health. Because a great smile is so important in the modern world, it can also have far-reaching effects such as isolation, anxiety, and depression. Fortunately, there is hope.
Dental phobia is somewhat complicated, because it can encompass multiple more specific fears. Although some people with dental phobia only experience one of these fears, the majority suffer from two or more, and those with a severe phobia may experience all of them simultaneously.
Pain: It is true that painless dentistry was, until recently, nearly impossible. Even today, discomfort and mild pain are common. If you have previously undergone a painful dental procedure or are particularly sensitive to mouth pain, you might fear excruciating pain.
Numbness: Even people with no particular fear of the dentist tend to list mouth numbing as something they strongly dislike. Those with a fear of numbness, though, often worry that they will not be able to breathe or swallow. This fear is more likely to develop in people who have had trouble breathing or experienced choking in the past, whether or not it was connected to a dentist visit.
“The Dentist”: This fear casts “The Dentist” into the same category as “The DMV” and “The IRS,” a cold, unfeeling behemoth at best and an active sadist at worst. If you have had a previous run-in with an uncaring dentist, you are at greater risk for developing this fear.
Needles: The fear of needles is officially known as trypanophobia, and is extremely common. Those with this specific fear do not necessarily worry about the rest of the procedure, but are terrified of having injections in the mouth.
Sensory Fears: All dental offices share certain smells, sights, sounds, and even tactile sensations. Some people are more sensitive to certain sensory input than others, and those who have had a negative experience in a dental office are more likely to be triggered by similar sensory data. And surprisingly, the sound of the drill seems to inspire nervousness in many people without an overall dental phobia.
Coping with Dental Phobia
Modern dentists are acutely aware of dental phobia, and many are taking active steps to help patients manage their fears. If your phobia is on the mild side, call the office and ask about tools and techniques that might help. For example, some offices provide blankets, soothing music, and chairside movies. If you prefer, you can bring your own DVD player or music system (with headphones!) instead.
If your phobia is stronger, schedule a consultation with the dentist, during which no work will be performed. Your dentist can help you talk through your triggers and come up with possible solutions. For example, you might work out one hand signal to ask for more numbing medication, and another to request a break. Your dentist might be able to work with the chair tilted somewhat upright, or schedule multiple procedures in a way that feels more comfortable to you.
Another excellent solution for many people is sedation dentistry. Nitrous oxide is a mild choice that wears off in minutes, oral sedation is a moderate option that can leave you feeling groggy, and IV sedation can cause you to enter a twilight sleep that will likely make you forget most of the process. Discuss your options with your dentist, and be sure to bring someone to drive you home if you choose anything deeper than nitrous oxide.
Those with severe dental phobia may want to consider speaking with a mental health professional. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, with or without hypnosis, can help you actually work through and release your phobia, rather than continually trying to manage it.
Conveniently located in Woodbury, MN, Creekview Dental provides a progressive yet conservative approach to dental care. Our innovative, highly personalized procedures are focused on maintaining tooth structure and providing you with the healthy, beautiful smile you deserve. Call us today at 651-738-8204 to take the first steps on the road to better dental health.