Dentophobia – Fear of Dentists 

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A phobia is an anxiety disorder. This anxiety disorder causes individuals to have excessive and unreasonable fear of a particular object, situation, or activity. This fear goes far beyond what would be reasonable given the actual danger. Family members can also inherit phobias, which is interesting.

Dental phobia is a strong fear of going to the dentist and getting dental treatments. The condition is also known as dental anxiety or dental fear. This fear can be so strong that affected individuals avoid dental appointments, even if they need urgent dental care.

Several factors can trigger the fear of the dentist, and it often has deep-rooted causes. In the blog post we explain why patients are afraid of visiting the dentist. We also explain how you can overcome your panicky fear of the dentist.

Symptoms of a dental phobia

Being scared of the dentist, called dental phobia, can negatively affect a person’s body and mind. These effects can severely impact daily life and lead to long-term health problems. However, the symptoms of a phobia can vary from person to person.

Here are some specific effects that a phobia can have on a patient:

Psychological symptoms

  • Intense fear: Even the thought of going to the dentist can trigger intense fear. This fear can occur days or even weeks before the appointment.
  • Panic attacks: Some people experience panic attacks when they think about the dentist or are in the dentist’s office.
  • Insomnia: Sufferers may have difficulty sleeping before an upcoming dental appointment.
  • Avoidance behavior: Many people with dental phobia avoid dentist visits altogether. Patients skip dental appointments even if they are experiencing pain or serious dental problems.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Anxiety can be so overwhelming that it interferes with the ability to concentrate.

Physical symptoms

  • Sweats: Profuse sweating may occur, especially on the hands and forehead.
  • Heart palpitations: Increased pulse and palpitations are common. Blood pressure and heart rate are usually significantly increased.
  • Nausea: Some people feel nauseous before or during a dental visit. Anxiety can cause an upset stomach.
  • Difficulty breathing: Hyperventilation or the feeling of not getting enough air may occur.
  • Tremor: Physical shaking or twitching, especially in the hands.

Emotional symptoms 

  • Overwhelm: A feeling of being overwhelmed or helpless about your dentist appointment.
  • Irritability: Increased irritability or nervousness associated with dental visits.
  • Crying or tantrums: Emotional outbursts can occur, especially in children, but also in adults.
  • Aggression: In extreme cases, those affected may show aggressive behavior to escape the situation.

Causes of dental phobia

The causes of dental phobia are varied and can be both psychological and physical. Sometimes patients are just afraid of individual treatment steps or gadgets like dental drills. But sometimes people just fear dental procedures in general.

The causes of the fear of dentists may include the following factors:

  • Painful experiences: Many people develop a fear of dentists after a traumatic experience at the dentist, especially during childhood. Also, a negative experience with a bad dentist in the past can influence the behavior of patients.
  • Fear of pain: The anticipation of pain during treatment can be enough to trigger fear. However, modern dentistry techniques are often painless.
  • Feeling of loss of control: Lying in the dentist’s chair can make some people feel helpless.
  • Discomfort with proximity: Some people feel uncomfortable when someone invades their personal space. However, this is unavoidable with the dentist.
  • Shame and Embarrassment: People who have decayed teeth or weak oral health are often ashamed of their condition. These patients fear that others will judge them. That is why they often avoid visiting the dentist.

Ways to overcome dental fear

  • Communication: An open conversation with the dentist about your own fears can be helpful. Many dentists specialize in treating anxious patients. You can take steps to make the visit more pleasant.
  • Relaxation techniques: Breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce anxiety. It may also be helpful to listen to soothing music during treatment.
  • Gradual Approach: Small steps can help reduce anxiety. An initial visit might include just a discussion without treatment, followed by short, simple treatments.
  • Sedation and anesthesia: For some patients, sedation (e.g. nitrous oxide or sedatives) or even general anesthesia may be a solution to undergo more extensive procedures. Doctors still recommend local anesthesia if the other methods for overcoming fears are helpful.
  • Obtaining information: Knowledge of modern dental practices and technologies that minimize pain and discomfort can be reassuring.

Treatment and support for a phobia

Treating anxiety patients can sometimes be problematic. For this reason, specialized dentists need to think about methods to help calm people with dental anxiety. Effective treatment methods include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This helps those affected recognize and overcome irrational fears. Therapy works to recognize these thought patterns, question them and develop alternative ways of thinking. For example, by consciously rephrasing an automatic negative thought into a positive one.
  • Exposure therapy: Gradual and controlled confrontation with fear-inducing situations. This therapy aims to reduce anxiety. To do this, we expose those affected to the fear-inducing situation repeatedly and in a controlled manner. This helps them overcome their fear.
  • Relaxation techniques: Techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and meditation can help control the physical symptoms of anxiety. Autogenic training is an effective method for relaxation. It uses self-hypnosis to deeply relax the body and mind.
  • Drug treatment: In some cases, antidepressants or beta blockers may help provide short-term relief from anxiety.

Interesting facts about phobias in the society

Phobias are quite prevalent in the English-speaking community, and there are several interesting facts about them:

  • Prevalence: Dental phobia affects 9-20% of adults in English-speaking countries. This makes it one of the more common phobias.
  • Impact on Health: Individuals with dental phobia often avoid dental visits. This leads to severe oral health issues. Therefore, these patients often have tooth decay or gum disease. Phobias can also have a major influence on mental health.
  • Children and Adolescents: Many children and adolescents also experience significant anxiety about dental visits. Negative experiences or stories can exacerbate this.
  • Impact on Dental Practices: Dental phobia has led to the development of specialized dental practices. Many clinics that cater specifically to phobic patients. These practices often use a combination of gentle techniques, calming environments, and patient-centered care to help alleviate fear.
  • Gender Differences: Studies have shown that women are more likely to experience dental phobia than men. Men are less likely to seek help for their phobia because of societal norms and expectations about masculinity.
  • Cultural differences: Cultural differences may influence how people view and treat dental phobia. In some cultures, there is a greater emphasis on alternative treatments or natural remedies to manage anxiety.

Conclusion

Many people are afraid of the dentist and therefore do not go for treatment regularly. Our dental clinic in Turkey has trained the staff to treat patients with dental phobia. Through sensitive care and modern treatment methods, they create a calming atmosphere. This helps patients overcome their fears and receive optimal dental care.