For many people, going to the dentist can bring levels of anxiety that you’d typically expect from someone who’s getting prepped for surgery. It would make more sense to fear the barber since they actually used to perform surgery, but that’s not what we’ll be talking about today.
This fear, formally known as dentophobia, often starts in childhood and it’s not uncommon for it to persist into adulthood. That begs the question of where this seemingly irrational dread stems from.
Today, we’re going to be diving deeper into some of the reasons why someone might be scared of going to the dentist despite knowing that nothing bad will happen, along with a few things you can do to alleviate the problem.
The most prominent, not to mention the most valid reason that going to the dentist strikes fear into would-be patients’ heart is the potential for pain. People are more likely to remember experiences that involve pain than positive memories.
This means that every ‘ouch’ you exclaim in a dental clinic is likely seared into your memory and contributing to your dentophobia. The anticipation of pain in itself could generate enough mental discomfort that you want to skip your appointments altogether before even arriving.
If you want to move past this fear, then you can try talking to your dentist about the pain you’ve experienced in the past. Not only will this prompt them to be more gentle moving forward, but the simple act of talking about it may eliminate any traumatic associations you have.
Humans can suffer from sensory overload, much like how your canine companion is likely stressed by the fireworks on New Year’s Day. Whether you’re a child or an adult, there’s always a chance of this occurring.
While it’s true that those with PTSD, ADHD and autism may be more susceptible to sensory overload due to existing hypersensitivity, it can really happen to anyone regardless of whether or not there’s an underlying mental disorder present.
Dental clinics are full of loud noises, weirdly-shaped tools, and the scraping feeling you experience during plaque removal. This smorgasbord of unusual and often unpleasant sensations are bound to make your dentophobia more severe.
The good thing is that this is one of the problems that you and your dentist can proactively manage. Putting on your favorite music, dimming the room, and other tweaks to your environment may make the appointment more pleasing to your brain’s senses.
During lengthy dental procedures, some patients may struggle to breathe. This causes anxiety both in the moment and in the future whenever you recall the nerve-racking experience.
While the dental assistant will drain saliva regularly to ensure the patient can breathe, even just a few seconds of being unable to take a gasp of air can be quite unsettling. Talking to your dentist about these fears before your procedure will make the experience more positive for you.
If your dentist knows that the inability to breathe, however brief, is particularly daunting to you, then they can instruct their assistant to pay close attention to the suction. By draining more frequently, you won’t have to deal with those scary moments anymore.
Note: Some dentists can provide breathing aids or nitrous oxide to deal with these issues.
Hearing about the sheer agony that your cousin went through during a root canal gone wrong, or even horror stories from people you don’t know, can be more than enough to strike fear into the hearts of those with a nearing dental appointment.
This cause is becoming more and more prevalent due to the rise of social media. In a society where it’s become all too easy to share your experiences, the potential to hear about these terrible incidents only increases. When, in reality, the chances of these events happening are actually quite rare.
The worse part is the odds of hearing negative stories are far higher than positive ones since someone in pain is more likely to post about their visit than those who had a great time. Dental nightmares also have a much better chance of going viral than positive reviews.
Talk to your dentist instead of believing everything you read online.
- Breathing exercises. Taking deep breaths before a procedure can calm the patient down and prevent further anxiety during the visit. Guided imagery and the playback of calming sounds may also be used to supplement these breathing techniques.
- Medication. Anxiety medications such as Valium, mild sedatives, laughing gas, or general anesthesia may be employed to help a patient relax both before and during the procedure. However, the usage of said medication is usually reserved for major operations.
- Communication. Like we’ve alluded to multiple times in this article, talking about your worries can often minimise the psychological effect they have on you while also filling in your dentist on what to avoid based on your personal concerns.
Dental anxiety is something that 36% of the population goes through, so it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Having an honest talk with your dentist will make it easier for them to give you the best care.
As Dr Jack Manikowski of Lincoln Park Smiles says: ‘After even the longest of dental procedures, I often hear my dental phobic patients say to me that, ‘The experience wasn’t nearly as bad’ as they thought it would be and it certainly wasn’t worth all of the anxiety leading up to the appointment.
‘Patients who are fearful of dental work need to find a dentist they like as a person and respect as a caring and competent DDS. I treat all of my patients with gentle hands and with empathy and I believe they look at me as a friend helping them achieve their best smiles.
‘Having a beautiful and healthy smile can be possible for everyone, even patients with phobias. It just requires the right match of trusting patient and caring dentist.’
Keeping your pearly whites healthy is a right that everyone has, and any fears or misconceptions shouldn’t hinder your oral well-being. At the end of the day, just remember that your dentist is like a friend with your best interests in mind.
Jake Lizarraga is a freelance wellness and lifestyle writer.