Nobody looks forward to a dental visit the same way they anticipate a birthday party, a summertime picnic, or a trip to the zoo. For most folks, dental appointments are just a part of life. For some people, a visit to the dentist is impossibly scary. So scary, in fact, that they refuse to see a dentist at all. Fortunately, there is a special breed of dentists who specialize in the care and treatment of dental phobic patients.
General fear vs. full-tilt phobia
Fear is one thing. A full-blown phobia is quite another. Random anxiety is a normal part of human existence. Excessive, persistent worry about everyday situations is not normal, nor are sudden episodes of intense terror that peak within minutes of exposure to a situation like a dental visit. Medical and dental conditions that require treatment can cause a great deal of anxiety, explains Mayo Clinic.
Symptoms of dental anxiety include feelings of tension and nervousness. Heart rate may increase and breathing may become more rapid. The patient may have trouble concentrating on anything while worrying relentlessly about an impending dental office visit. They may have trouble sleeping even though they feel exhausted. Digestion problems may occur, as well.
Panic and anxiety that interfere with a person’s ability to keep dental appointments can lead to diminished dental health and poor hygiene. That much is certain. So, how do people become dental phobic in the first place? People aren’t born with a fear of dentists. It’s a learned thing, and people learn it in a variety of ways.
Why people become afraid of dentists
Embarrassment is a common cause of dental phobia. Persons who have neglected their dental health often feel ashamed of the state of their mouth and develop an intense fear of dentists or dental assistants getting ‘up close and personal.’ Sometimes, a person who was once at ease in the dental chair has a bad experience that alters the way they think about the dentist. Maybe they underwent a procedure with not enough anesthetic, or maybe they felt a choking sensation during an exam. Some persons who have recently suffered a painful injury not related to dental health become fearful of any situation, including dental visits, that might cause discomfort. Specialist dental service providers like Emergency Dentists USA, have also seen a lot of patients reluctant to make dental appointments due to lack of insurance, and are unaware of dentists that can work with patients that have no insurance.
Painful experiences during past dental visits can cause a patient to fear dentists forevermore. Menacing portrayals of dentists as sadistic brutes does nothing to allay public perceptions of the dentist as someone to avoid, notes the National Institutes of Health.
What you can do today
Persons who are exceptionally fearful should speak with a dentist in a non-confrontational, non-clinical setting. Schedule an appointment just to sit and talk with a dentist in your neighborhood. Explain your fears and converse about the various options available to fearful dental patients. Your dentist may be able to offer you anesthesia or put you into a ‘twilight sleep’ during dental procedures such as extraction, say the makers of Colgate toothpaste. Mental health therapy may also be recommended to help a phobic patient overcome their irrational fear of dentistry.
A consultation that does not include dental work or x-rays is an ideal time for an open conversation about the things you find frightening about dental visits. If knowing what your dentist is doing helps during a procedure, ask them to explain. If distraction techniques are more your style, those may be offered when you do come in for an actual examination or dental treatment.
How to find a dentist who specializes in compassionate dentistry
Talk to friends, family, and co-workers and tell them what a chicken you are when it comes to seeing a dentist. Word of mouth referrals are the best way to find a dentist who truly caters to the needs of nervous patients. If you’re too embarrassed to ask for yourself, seek the assistance of a trusted friend to make a few calls on your behalf. Baby steps are better than no steps at all, especially when a dental phobic person is trying to bravely face a dental appointment.
You might try asking the receptionist in your doctor’s office if she knows of a dentist who caters to cowardly dental patients. Yelp and other local review sites may give you a general sense of which dentists are compassionate and which are not.
Dental health is not something to forget about just because it makes you nervous. Plenty of people worry about dental visits but still manage to make their appointments. You can, too, if you establish a trusting relationship with your dental care provider.