A trip to the dentist is not at the top of anyone’s list of things to do, but it is far more than a simple inconvenience and more about fear for many people. In fact, it is estimated that over 75 percent of all adults have some sort of dental anxiety or fear. Unfortunately, this fear and anxiety keep many people from seeking the dental treatments they need, often contributing to other medical concerns.
At New Leaf Rohnert Park, our dental team understands dental fear and phobias, and we do everything we can to help you feel safe and comfortable in our care.
Fear of the dentist and dentophobia
While as many as 75 percent of the adult population have some sort of fear or anxiety when it comes to the dentist, 5-10 percent of those individuals have a level of fear that classifies as a true phobia. For these individuals, going to the dentist just isn’t an option. Unfortunately, that means serious dental concerns are often not addressed and can contribute to serious health complications.
Common causes of dentophobia and dental anxiety
The most common cause of dental anxiety and dentophobia stems from a previous traumatic experience. If you had a bad dental experience as a child or young adult, this is often enough to cause dental anxiety. Other common causes of dentophobia include fear of pain, a fear of doctors or dentists in general, and a fear of needles. For others, the embarrassment of having someone look inside their mouth is enough to cause anxiety.
Signs and symptoms of dentophobia
Phobias of any kind are highly personal and so are the symptoms. Some symptoms are very mild while others can be severe. Typical symptoms of dentophobia include:
- Refusing to go to the dentist due to fear
- Refusing specific treatments due to pain or the use of needles
- Panic attacks or breaking down in tears with the mention of a dentist or dental treatment
- Shaking or vomiting at the mention of a dental visit or when at the dental office
Why are people afraid of the dentist?
Dentophobia is the fear of dentists or dental procedures in general, but it encompasses many different specific fears. These fears include:
- Fear of the dentist – similar to white coat syndrome with doctors, the same applies to dentists. It isn’t a fear of the treatment, but of the dentists themselves.
- Fear of pain – While new technology has contributed to less painful dentistry techniques, that was not always the case. Many people remember a painful procedure and the fear of pain is what causes dentophobia. In many cases, the fear is actually worse than the pain itself.
- Fear of numbness and gagging – No one likes leaving the dentist with a numb mouth, but for some, this numbness sparks fear of being unable to breathe or swallow. In other cases, it may trigger a gagging reflex.
- Fear of needles – the fear of needles is common and the idea of needles going into the mouth is often too much for those with dentophobia.
- Sensory fears – many people are particularly sensitive to sounds and smells. For them, the smell of a dental office or the sound of a drill is often enough to trigger anxiety.
- Previous trauma – as mentioned before, previous dental trauma, whether as an adult or child, is often enough to keep a patient from returning to the dentist.
- Fear of embarrassment – Many people are very self-conscious and having someone up close and looking inside their mouth can trigger anxiety and embarrassment, especially if they have serious dental issues.
There are many different ways to treat dentophobia, ranging from behavioral techniques to medication. In fact, there is actually a field of psychiatry devoted to dental fears. Treatment for dentophobia depends on your level of anxiety and fear and is very individualized.
A common behavioral technique for dentophobia is exposure therapy. With the help of a psychiatrist and dental professional, you gradually begin dental treatment. This starts with a simple appointment to just visit the dental office, without an exam. Your next trip may be for a simple x-ray. Eventually, you work your way into an exam and then any necessary treatment.
Another treatment option that often works involves hypnotherapy.
Certain relaxation techniques are often enough to calm your fears during a dental visit, and many are utilized by dental offices. Something as simple as a headset with music you can wear during a dental appointment can help reduce anxiety and make a dental treatment possible. For more severe anxiety, deep breathing exercises and guided imagery can also help to reduce your anxiety.
When other treatments do not work, medication ranging from mild sedatives to general anesthesia can help make dental treatments possible. A dentist may prescribe medications such as Valium for you to take before arriving for an appointment to help reduce anxiety. Another option to help soothe anxiety is the use of laughing gas.
Tips to overcome fear
Overcoming dental fears is essential for your dental and overall health. Putting off a trip to the dentist can lead to tooth loss and other health complications. Whether working with a medical professional or trying some simple tricks, it is possible to receive the dental care you need.
There are some things you can do on your own to help reduce your dental fears. Consider bringing a comforting object, such as a blanket, to your dental appointment. In many cases, having a support system, such as a friend or family member, with you during your appointment is often enough to ease your anxiety.
Finding the right dentist for you
When it comes to dentophobia, finding the right dentist can make all the difference. When a dentist understands your fears, they can often work with you to try and overcome them. Ask to meet with the dentist before any appointment so you can discuss your fears and create a plan.
At New Leaf Rohnert Park, we understand that dentophobia is so much more than just a simple fear of the dentists. Our caring team will work with you to create an individualized treatment plan that makes you feel safe and comfortable.
Contact us online today or call the office at (707) 586-1549 to schedule a meeting with our dental team to discuss your fears and take the first step.