What is dental phobia? Dental phobia is the serious, often paralyzing fear of seeking dental care. It has been reliably reported that half the American population does not seek regular dental care. An estimated 9-15 percent of all Americans avoid needed care due to anxiety and fear surrounding the dental experience. This translates to some 30-40 million people so afraid of dental treatment that they avoid it all together.
In terms of your dental health and overall well-being, this can have serious ramifications. Besides chronically infected gums and teeth that can affect your medical status, your ability to chew and digest can be seriously compromised. Without healthy gums and teeth, your speech can be affected as well. Your self-confidence can be diminished if you are insecure about your breath and smile. This can lead to serious limitations in both your social and business environments.
Why do I fear the dentist?
Dental phobias and anxiety stem from various sources. The following are the most common origins of dental fear: •Previously painful or negative experiences during visits to a dentist’s office. This can even include careless comments made by a dentist or hygienist during a past examination.
- A severe discomfort with feeling helpless and/or out of control in the dentist’s office.
- A sense of embarrassment of your dental neglect and fear of ridicule and/or belittlement when you present to the dental office.
- Scary anecdotes of negative dental experiences learned secondhand from family and friends.
- Negative, menacing portrayals of dentists in movies, TV, newspapers, and magazines.
- A sense of depersonalization in the dental process, intensified by today’s necessity for the use of barrier precautions, such as masks, latex gloves, and shields.
- A general fear of the unknown.
What can I do about my dental fear?
The first thing you can do is to realize that your dental fear can be overcome. Fear is a learned behavior, so it can be unlearned. Patient-centered behavior modification that treats you as a whole person, not as a set of teeth, can help you overcome your fears. This will obviously take a team approach between you and your dentist and his/her staff. Communication is the key. You must feel comfortable expressing your fears and concerns and have a sense that you are being listened to. You should never compromise the level of communication that you feel is necessary to give you a sense of control over your situation in the dental office. Modern dentistry with a compassionate dental team can be truly painless. You can desensitize yourself to your fears if you take the first step and allow the right team to help you overcome your fears.
Here a several techniques that are proven to be useful:
A sense of control. Explanation and clarification of any and all procedures proposed is your right as a patient. If you have a question about a particular procedure, ask it!!! Empower yourself with the knowledge to alleviate fear of the unknown. You should be honest with your dentist regarding how much treatment you think you can tolerate at first. As you build confidence in yourself and trust in the team that is caring for you, the length of your appointment and the amount of work accomplished will increase.
Never be embarrassed. If you have been ridiculed in the past for your behavior, or if you are embarrassed by your present dental condition caused by your neglect, please express yourself honestly and give your present dentist a chance to understand your concerns. You will be amazed at the wealth of treatment options that you might not have thought were possible. With modern dentistry, it’s never to late to recreate a new smile!!!
Relaxation techniques. If you feel tense in the chair, the easiest way to relax is through forms of physical relaxation. A relaxed body promotes a clear and relaxed mind. The human body cannot be physically relaxed and mentally anxious at the same time!!! Physical relaxation methods are easier to accomplish at first as compared to cognitive ones, so practice physical relaxation first, e.g., diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and various methods taught in yoga. Nitrous oxide can also be administered through a nosepiece-breathing device. This mild laughing gas helps to ease anxiousness and provides a very calming comforting effect, while leaving you conscious and in control.
Distraction. As you get more comfortable in the dental environment, you can engage in various distraction techniques that many offices have. The use of a portable CD player is a common technique. Listening to your favorite music can be a great distraction!!!
Communicate, empower yourself with knowledge, and take control of your fears! a