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Fear of the dentist is a major problem that a lot of people suffer from. So much so, it has gotten its own name: dentophobia. With so many dealing with dental anxiety, it was a major breakthrough to patients to know there was a solution or them. When sedation dentistry became more prominent, more people decided they could finally take control of their oral health. It is important to not let fear of the dentist stop you from going. Oral health is a major contributor to overall health, so managing it is imperative. Now because of sedation dentistry, there are a series of methods you can undergo to allow a relaxation of those nerves.

If you suffer from dental anxiety, letting Santa Rosa dentists know is important.  This way, they will work with you to overcome your fear and make you feel as comfortable as possible.  Over time, you’ll find that you can overcome your fear and establish a great relationship with going to the dentist.  Soon enough, you’ll be over your fear and maintain great oral hygiene.

Fear vs. phobia

Fears and phobias are often discussed interchangeably, but these two states of mind have some marked differences between them. A fear can be a strong dislike that may cause avoidance, but it’s not necessarily something you might think about until the thing you fear presents itself.

On the other hand, a phobia is a much stronger form of fear. Phobias are considered a type of anxiety disorder, and are known to cause extreme distress and avoidance — so much so, that these interfere with your daily life. Another characteristic of a phobia is that it’s not something that will likely cause you harm in reality, but you can’t help feeling that it will.

When applied to the context of going to the dentist, being fearful could mean you dislike going and put off your appointments until necessary. You may dislike the feel and the sounds of the instruments used during cleanings and other procedures, but you put up with them anyway.

In comparison, dentophobia can present such a severe fear that you avoid the dentist altogether. Even the mere mention or thought of the dentist may cause anxiety. Nightmares and panic attacks may also occur. The causes and treatment for a fear of the dentist and dentophobia may be similar. However, a legitimate phobia of the dentist can take more time and work to cope with.

What are the causes of Dental Anxiety? 

After defining Dentophobia and running through some elements that can trigger anxiety, let’s talk about the root causes. Bad dental hygiene usually corresponds with a patient having heightened anxiety is they fear the consequences. If teeth and gums aren’t being looked after, a guilty conscience can trigger dentophobia. But it’s not always purely exclusive to dentistry, it can be related to associated phobias listed below:

Algophobia – The fear of pain

 More common in people over 65, this is the continuous fear of being hurt. Pain thresholds can vary greatly with some people being able to withstand huge amounts and others reacting terribly to small instances. Normal behaviour would be to act cautious in certain situations e.g. when broken glass is on the floor. But when excessive thoughts occur for days on end and they become irrational, that’s when algophobia may be diagnosed.

Trypanophobia – The fear of needles

 Most common in children, adults tend to grow out of this phobia as their pain thresholds get higher. But some people do continue with trypanophobia as they get older and it can be detrimental to their health.  It can cause individuals to miss essential jabs and medical care, resulting in a higher risk of illness.

Iatrophobia – The fear of doctors

This can be further generalised to when enormous amounts of anxiety occur when dealing with any type of medical professional (including dentists). Another phobia which can be hugely damaging to someone’s well being and can result in them missing/delaying crucial treatment.

Emetophobia – The fear of vomiting

This phobia is more specific to the dental industry as it can be tied with the fear of gagging. Often during a visit the patient is required to hold their mouth open for long periods of time while the dentist works away inside. Someone with a strong gag reflex may be extremely worried that their throat muscles will contract while this is going on.

Aphenphosmphobia – The fear of being touched

This is only intensified when it’s by another person who the sufferer is not close to/comfortable with. As well as having a harmful effect on building intimate relationships, it’s known to be especially traumatic with members of the opposite sex.

Previous Experiences

The most common cause for Dentophobia and most phobias in general, is that they are the result of a previous traumatic experience. This is what most behavioural psychologists conclusively agree. If the sufferer has had a previous experience that was particularly painful, levels of anxiety and overthinking can increase. It’s especially pertinent if the dentophobe had a negative experience on their very first trip to the dentist. All further trips can then be unnecessarily stressful psychologically.

Genetics

At first glance, you wouldn’t suspect being anxious about a dentist probing around your gums could be hereditary. But it is accepted in the medical community that a previous disposition can be passed down genetically from parents. Family members who are known to suffer from other phobias, or have anxious personalities generally can have an effect on a person’s mental stability.  It is important to state that phobias can be the result of multiple causes. Including the environment, previous trauma and genetics.

Conditioned Response

If you continue to have negative experiences with dentists, it wears on you emotionally. As a child, your parents have the right to have a dentist care for your teeth (with your best interests in mind, of course). The more you are forced to see a dentist, the more the anxiety and dental fear builds — and the more you long to avoid it. As an adult, you’ve dealt with enough dental trauma to lead you to the choice of avoiding the dentist completely.

The Instruments

Your dental phobia may not stem from trauma, but instead, the instruments used by a dentist. Let’s be honest, their tools are disconcerting. Most dentists wear masks to cover their mouths, as well as peculiar magnifying glasses. They use mirrors, probes, cheek retractors, and let’s not forget this thing of nightmares — needles. The tools cause discomfort, and they can be fear-invoking. But they don’t have to be.

Embarrassment

While it is a dentists’ duty to admonish you and recommend proper oral health practices, they are also professionals. They have fixed cavities, seen dead teeth, and done root canals. Dentists treat gum disease and have seen rotting teeth. They’ve seen it all. If you’re dealing with something you deem embarrassing, odds are it is more important that you deal with the problem instead of avoiding the embarrassment. Your health could be at risk the longer you delay dental care.

Symptoms of Dentophobia

Dentophobia leads to a variety of physical and mental symptoms:

  • Feeling like crying, screaming, shaking, sweating, feeling nauseated.
  • The phobic experiences a full blown panic attack: he wishes to flee, hide etc.
  • Avoidance is the most common symptom: one might put off seeing the dentist for so long that it could lead to various complications. Gum disease, cavities, or worse, heart problems can also occur in such individuals.
  • Often, the fear of dentists leads to greater expenses: worsening oral health could lead to more expensive treatments including Root canal therapy, costly bridges, implants, crowns etc. This becomes a vicious cycle as the phobic, due to this knowledge, refuses to get treated, leading to greater health problems.
  • Poor teeth can impact other areas of the individual’s life: getting a job where one is expected to have clean, shiny teeth or even dating and relationships can be impacted negatively. The person often becomes socially withdrawn, depressed, isolated or turns into an Agoraphobic.

Treatments for patients who fear going to dentists

Mild fears over seeing the dentist are best remedied by going to the dentist instead of avoiding it. In the case of significant dental work, you may ask to be sedated so you’re not awake during the procedure. While not common practice in all offices, you may be able to find a dentist who can accommodate your sedation wishes.

However, if you have a true phobia, the act of going to the dentist is much easier said than done. Like other phobias, dentophobia may be tied to an anxiety disorder, which may require a combination of therapies and medications.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy, a type of psychotherapy, is among the most effective solutions for dentophobia because it involves seeing the dentist on a more gradual basis.

You might start by making visits to the dentist’s office without actually sitting down for an exam. Then, you can gradually build on your visits with partial exams, X-rays, and cleanings until you’re comfortable to take on a full appointment.

Medication

Medications won’t treat dentophobia by themselves. However, certain types of anti-anxiety medications may alleviate symptoms as you’re working through exposure therapy. These can also ease some of the more physical symptoms of your phobia, such as high blood pressure.

Tips to Overcome Dentophobia

So how do you overcome dentophobia? Here are some steps we recommend taking:

  • Did you know that you can meet with a dentist withouthaving any procedure’s done? It is sometimes referred to as “pre-treatment conditioning”. The goal of the meeting is to become comfortable in the office, to speak with your dentist and develop a rapport, and to ease your anxiety. This is a simple step that can greatly reduce your symptoms. Schedule this appointment today.
  • When a dental hygienist is cleaning your teeth, it can cause some discomfort. This is especially true if the only time your teeth ever get flossed is at the dentist. You can let the hygienist know that if it becomes painful you become anxious. If you need to stop for a break agree beforehand on a signal. Knowing they will stop anytime you ask can ease your anxiety.
  • Ask what tools they are using, what it’s being used for, and what you can expect to feel. A dentist’s office should be willing to explain everything in detail to you, and put you at ease.
  • One of my greatest issues at the dentist was the fear of needles — having Novicane administered in order to have a procedure done. The long needles they use can be terrifying. However, it was never painful for me — they administer a numbing gel before the Novicane. The fear was more closely associated with the discomfort of knowing a needle was being injected into my gums. For me, it helps to take some deep breaths and have them talk me through every step they’re taking, while I didn’t watch. If your dental anxiety is associated with seeing the needles, ask for them to be kept out of your eyesight and to be given warning before it is used. It may also help you to familiarize yourself with the needles at a separate appointment, or even looking at photos online. This can help desensitize your dental anxiety.
  • If you properly perform dental care, you can lessen the number of times you need to see a dentist. Flossing regularly also can save you discomfort as your gums won’t become irritated and bleed at your appointment. When you care for your teeth and don’t get cavities you can evenavoid those Novicane needles!

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, the following tips can help you stay calm during your appointment:

  • See the dentist at a less busy time of day, such as the morning hours. There will be fewer people, but also fewer tools making noises that could trigger your anxiety. Also, the later you see your dentist, the more time your anxieties will build up in anticipation.
  • Bring noise-canceling headphones or ear buds 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.

Above all else, know that it’s OK if you need a break at any point during your visit. It can be helpful to establish a “signal” with your dentist ahead of time so they know when to stop.

You can then either continue with your visit when you’re ready, or come back another day when you feel better.

How to Teach Your Child to Like the Dentist

  • As soon as your children have teeth, help them learn how to brush them. Start by doing it yourself so they are used to another adult cleaning their teeth. Help them learn that it is fun to care for their teeth. You can even buy them cool toothpaste that will let them know if they missed a spot! Typically, they better their teeth are cared for, the less uncomfortable procedures they’ll need to have in the future.
  • Start young: take your child to a dentist who specializes in working with children as soon as they have baby teeth. These dentists and technicians are adequately trained & are experienced working with kids. They know how to ease their fears.
  • Be careful not to project your own fear onto your child. They won’t have the same experiences you’ve had — so let them have their own. If your child hashad a painful experience in the past, remind them that it won’t always be that way. Ask them questions about what hurt, what scared them, etc. Be sure to relay these concerns to their dentist so they can help alleviate pain and help your child be comfortable.
  • Dentists are good at rewards systems for kids, they’ll usually get a fun new toothbrush or some trinket to help associate positivity with the dentist. You can also play your part in rewarding your child with a positive experience after the dentist visit. Well — maybe avoid candy!

How to find the right dentist for you

choose the right dentist for you. There are dentists who specialize and work with people with an extreme dental phobia. They will even meet you outside their offices and go the extra mile to make sure you are comfortable.

Among the most important qualities of a dentist is the ability to understand your fears and aversions. You can ask your doctor or a loved one for a recommendation for a caring dentist. Another option is to call around and ask prospective offices if they specialize in working with patients who have fears 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’s important to be open about why you fear going to the dentist so they can be better able to put you at ease. The right dentist will take your fears seriously while also being accommodating to your needs.