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You're not alone if you experience fear or stress before dental treatment. About 25% to 36% of the population suffers from dental anxiety.1,6 However, going to the dentist is essential for maintaining healthy teeth.
Dental phobia is a more severe, irrational fear of the dentist. Dental phobias can cause you to avoid seeking dental care, even when in pain.
Skipping dental appointments negatively affects more than just oral health. Dental health is closely related to overall health.
Fortunately, you can take steps to relieve dental anxiety. This article explains dentophobia, its causes, and ways to reduce anxiety before and during dental treatment.
Dentophobia (dental phobia) is an extreme fear of the dentist. People with dental phobia may experience severe fear just thinking about visiting a dental office.
Many adults in the U.S. experience some level of dental anxiety but manage to see their dentist regularly. Some avoid dental care altogether.
Various aspects of the dental setting can trigger severe fear in people with dentophobia. Common triggers include:
Dental anxiety and dentophobia are similar but distinct conditions. Mental health professionals use questionnaires like the Modified Dental Anxiety Scale (MDAS) to asses phobic and anxious patients.
A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. It involves intense fear of a situation or event that’s not dangerous or threatening.
Dentophobia is a specific phobia that involves extreme dental fear. People with dentophobia may avoid dental treatment to an extent that’s harmful to their health.
Avoiding dental care increases the risk of problems like tooth decay and gum disease. These dental issues can affect a person’s overall health, as well as their relationships and career.
Dental anxiety is more common and less severe than dentophobia. People with dental anxiety may feel mild anxiety, stress, or worry leading up to a dental appointment. However, they don’t experience the same intense dental fear as people with dentophobia.
While dental anxiety is uncomfortable, most people who have it will still go to the dentist when needed. This is the main difference between dental anxiety and dentophobia.
Many things can make people afraid of going to the dentist. Some people develop dentophobia as a result of past trauma involving dental treatment.
These traumas include:
For example, someone who experiences a perforation of the sinus cavity from a tooth extraction may have anxiety about going to the dentist again.
Anxiety associated with various other phobias may cause extreme dental fear, such as:
Dental phobia is a common problem. Approximately 12% of people suffer from extreme dental fear.1
Unlike many other phobias, dental phobia affects both sexes. However, it’s twice as common in women as in men (4.6% vs 2.7%, respectively).5
Dentophobia symptoms can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms of dental phobia include:
Dental anxiety can feel debilitating. But avoiding the dentist’s office has more risks.
Issues like tooth decay, periodontal disease, and oral cancer can become emergencies if not detected early enough. Cavities can also develop if plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed during professional teeth cleanings.
Fortunately, there are ways to combat dental anxiety. Below are some available treatment options to reduce dental fear and anxiety:
Also called systemic desensitization, this is a common treatment for many phobias, including dental phobia. It’s a type of talk therapy in which you’re gradually exposed to situations that may trigger dental anxiety.
You work with a mental health professional who teaches you relaxation techniques. Then, they slowly introduce triggers. Start with what you fear the least and work up to the most severe triggers.
This type of talk therapy teaches people how to restructure their beliefs about a topic, such as dental care.
CBT sessions also help people learn the skills and strategies to develop a positive mindset around going to the dentist. Peer-reviewed studies show that CBT effectively reduces dental anxiety and phobia.5
Dentists may use different medications to soothe a person during their visit. These medications include:
Dentists may also prescribe anxiety medications such as Xanax or Valium for you to take before a dental procedure.
Various behaviors and relaxation methods can help you overcome dental fear and anxiety. Some treatments involve working with a professional, while others can be done at home or in the dentist’s office.
Common techniques include:
This treatment approach involves calmly explaining dental procedures as the dentist performs them.
The dentist will explain what they're doing in a soothing manner to help people relax in the dental chair. After the procedure, the dentist may use positive reinforcement to encourage a person and help boost their confidence.
People can often help themselves overcome their fears by researching before choosing a general dentist.
If a person believes they can trust their dentist, they’re likely to feel less afraid. They may even request to meet with the dentist before a procedure to ensure they feel comfortable.
A dentist can prescribe various medications to treat a patient’s anxiety. This is known as sedation dentistry.
They may give the patient a mild sedative like laughing gas and local or general anesthesia. Medications like Valium and Xanax may also be used.
Xanax may help with dental anxiety in patients. However, it’s just one of the ways that dentists can help treat dentophobia.
Developing poor dental hygiene is the biggest concern with avoiding a dental appointment due to anxiety. Dental visits are necessary — even for anxious patients — to keep health problems at bay.
While negative experiences in the dentist’s chair can take a toll on someone’s mental health, forgoing dental checkups can also take a toll on physical health.
Avoiding treatment for too long can lead to painful cavities, a root canal, gum disease, and even oral cancer. Talk to the team at your dental practice about ways to help overcome dental anxiety to ensure you receive proper care.
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