Table of Contents
- Let’s Get Some Things Straight
- The Issues
- The Dentist Experience
- Fear Of The Dentist Wrap Up
We could start off this article writing about all the horrible things you’re probably afraid of about going to the dentist, but that’s probably not going to help anyone, so we’ll skip that part.
The truth of the matter is that dental phobia is a pretty major issue. Anyone who experiences a fear of the dentist can have serious issues with their teeth and gums, and as a result it can affect them in a variety of ways in their life.
Understanding how to defeat dental phobia can be a major milestone in a person’s life, so today we’ve got an article that explains the ins-and-outs of dental phobia.
Let’s Get Some Things Straight
First off, let’s define some terms. The term “dental phobia” is thrown around a lot in cases like this and personally, we’re not a huge fan of that. According to Webster’s, a phobia is an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation.
The issue there is that often times people’s fear of the dentist isn’t at all inexplicable or illogical. In fact, over two thirds of people that have some form of dental anxiety state that the reason they have that anxiety is due to a bad past experience. As a result, most people instead suffer from some form of dental PTSD, not dental phobia.
Another major misconception is that dental phobia only applies to those who have some extreme fear of going to the dentist, which also isn’t true. Like any other fear, dental anxiety can fall somewhere on a wide spectrum, from feeling light discomfort to extreme, paralyzing nervousness. If going to the dentist gives you even a bit of discomfort and fear, you’ve got some form of dental anxiety.
We liken dental anxiety to public speaking. Some people get a bit nervous about speaking in front of groups. Some people literally cannot do it because of an extreme fear. Both suffer from some degree of public speaking anxiety.
So what are the major issues with dental anxiety? Well, the biggest is the lack of general oral hygiene. Many people who suffer from a fear of the dentist will only visit when there is an emergency, which means they don’t get a regular checkup.
One of the major aspects of going to the dentist is the oral examination. Any visit to a dental hygienist will include a full inspection of your mouth. During this inspection, they’ll look for warning signs of gingivitis, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay, cavities, oral cancer and a variety of other problems. Many of these are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to diagnose yourself. Any problems that might occur above (or below) the gum line aren’t possible to identify without an x-ray.
Additionally, those who don’t visit the dentist can also suffer from mild to significant self-confidence issues. Yellow/crooked teeth, bad breath, and a host of potential oral illnesses can make interacting with other people a lot more difficult. Those along with the issue of struggling with a fear or anxiety can be a hard hit on the ego.
So, what causes dental anxiety and dental PTSD? Below we’ve got a list of the usual suspects. You may find that several of these contribute to the fears that you associate with the dentist.
There are often very negative portrayals of the dentist in cartoons, TV shows, movies and books. Many of these can result in an unrealistic expectation of what goes on at the dentist’s office. Also, we usually only hear accounts of visits that don’t go so well. Any reading that you do on social media or news outlets will likely only tell you about bad visits and terrifying experiences.
Many people that have some form of PTSD have that as a result of painful experiences they’ve had at the dentist before. Many of these people are above the age of 25 and had to deal with less advanced technologies at the dentist’s office earlier in their life. Many of the procedures that you used to experience at the dentist are outdated and have been replaced with less pain, less invasive processes.
Additionally, many dentists aren’t as aware as they should be that many people have significantly different pain thresholds. This results in them applying a one-fits-all approach to how they clean.
Loss Of Control
Similar to riding in an airplane, often times a loss of control will cause a significant level of anxiety. At the dentist you’ll likely lose some or total control over your ability to drink/eat, swallow saliva, talk/communicate and even express pain and discomfort. All of these can be majorly associated with some form of dental anxiety.
Many times we’re afraid of going to the dentist because we haven’t been doing such a great job of taking care of our teeth. Being afraid of getting reprimanded can cause us to turn the other way.
It should be noted that any dentist who make you feel uncomfortable due to your lack of hygiene is behaving in an unprofessional manner. If that happens you should look for a new dentist to go to.
Negative Past Experience
Beyond pain, there are plenty of other past experiences that can cause dental anxiety and dental PTSD.
Having someone poke around your mouth can be a pretty tough thing to deal with. Any embarrassment due to lack of hygiene, poor teeth alignment, bad breath or other issues can cause us to be much less enthusiastic about visiting our oral hygienist.
The list of symptoms for dental anxiety is pretty similar to general anxiety. You’ll find these symptoms show themselves near dentist appointments, usually the night before or the day of.
- Issues sleeping
- Emotional Stress
The Dentist Experience
Sometimes the best way to get over a fear is to understand what you’re afraid of in detail. If you’re a bit worried about heading to the dentist’s office, look through the three procedures below so you’re more familiar with exactly what goes on during a dentist’s appointment:
The first thing you’ll usually go through at an appointment is a full oral examination. The idea here is that the dentist is simply looking through your mouth to identify any problem areas. Things that the dentist or oral hygienist is looking for include signs of gingivitis/gum disease, cavities, tooth decay, oral cancer, thrush, weak/loose teeth and overall health.
The least enjoyable part of the appointment is probably going to be the X-rays. This is the part where they put the strange cardboard looking objects in your mouth and put that cylindrical camera-looking-thing next to your mouth.
The goal here is to look for issues that can’t be identified by the eye. These issues can include loose teeth, anchor damage, extensive gum health issues (periodontal disease), impacted/damaged teeth, gum pockets, cysts/tumors and other forms of extensive decay. These X-rays will be taken on the initial appointment and usually in yearly increments afterwards.
Finally, the most important part will usually happen after the previous two activities are complete. The dental cleaning is basically a really in-depth form of what you’re doing everyday – brushing and flossing. This section can be uncomfortable because it usually takes the longest, however most dentists should be willing to work with you on how they go about the cleaning. We’ve got a list of ways you can help make this part of the appointment easier listed below.
If you experience some fear of the dentist, there are a number of ways you can approach the problem. Below we’ve listed some of the best ways to treat and cure dental phobia and dental PTSD:
The most successful way of working around dental anxiety is to find a doctor who specializes in caring for patients with fear of the dentist. It might take a bit of searching, but you’ll be in the best spot if you find someone who is willing to work with you and the concerns you’ve got. Try using this site or this site to search around and find someone who caters to you.
Many of the concerns you face can be worked through by simply talking to the dental hygienist. A lot of people are embarrassed that they’ve got some fear of the dentist, however between 10% and 15% of Americans face some form of dental phobia or dental PTSD, so don’t worry about it.
Many dentists and oral hygienists are very willing to accommodate you if you notify them ahead of time. Often all they need to do is extend your appointment a few minutes to compensate for longer breaks and explanations. If the dentist isn’t able to accommodate you, look for someone else.
Below is a list of topics you should talk with your dentist about:
- Talk with them about exactly what will take place.
- Discuss the issues you’ve had in the past.
- Discuss the specific problems and procedures you’ve had issue with and why you’ve had issue with them.
- Ask if you can wear headphone and listen to music or podcasts while they work.
- Ask if there are any rooms with TV’s you could use.
- Ask for them to provide a gentle explanation of procedures that they do.
- Ask for them to provide warnings on what and when you’ll experience certain sensations.
- Ask for them to consistently ask for permission to continue.
- Ask to establish a stop signal that you can give them if things get too uncomfortable.
- Ask to take longer and more frequent breaks during the appointment.
- Ask to review potential sedative options. These options may include a local anesthetic, nitrous oxide, oral sedatives, and intravenous sedation. Keep in mind that using a sedative can be dangerous in its own right. Many dentists are wary of using them too frequently. Also, some dentists may only be licensed to perform a certain set of sedation techniques.
Make sure to aggressively vet each dentist before you see them. Remember, they are looking for your business and should be interested in accommodating your needs. If they’re unable to do that, take your business to a doctor that will help you with your issues and concerns.
Take someone you trust such as a spouse, loved one, family member or friend. Knowing that you’ve got someone out in the lobby can make the experience much easier.
Look into relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises. Counting your breaths can help to slow your heart rate and relax your muscles. A simple technique is to breath in for five counts, hold for five counts and exhale for five counts. Try to practice these before you’re actual appointment so you’re comfortable using them in the moment.
Talk To Someone
Think about talking to a specialist about your concerns with the dentist. You may find that the issues you have affect you in other areas of your life as well. Working through these problems can lead to a significantly increased quality of life.
Fear Of The Dentist Wrap Up
Going to the dentist can suck, but there are plenty of ways to make it suck a lot less. We hope that this article has helped you to find ways to work around the fear that you have. If any of these didn’t work or worked particularly well, please let us know so we can update this article. If you have any other comments, questions or concerns, you can leave a comment below or contact us.