By David Hudnall, DMD
A fear can be a strong dislike or something that may cause avoidance. It’s not necessarily something you would normally think about until the situation that you fear most presents itself.
An actual phobia is a much stronger form of fear. Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder known to cause extreme distress to the point that they interfere with body function or your ability to function in daily life. A phobia is made up of irrational thoughts that are not likely to cause harm in reality, but you have an extreme belief that they will. Since many people experience dental fear and phobias associated with going to the dentist, let’s explore what they may mean.
What Is Dentophobia?
Dentophobia, also known as odontophobia or the fear of dentists and dental treatment is a common issue among people of all ages. Dental anxiety indicates a state of apprehension that something dreadful will happen while undergoing dental treatment. It is usually coupled with a feeling of losing control.
Symptoms of Dentophobia
Many people find dentistry very invasive since the dentist is working in the patient’s personal space while the patient is lying in a very vulnerable, reclined position. Coupled with that are the typical sights, sounds, and smells associated with a dental office that often elicits a negative reaction. Patients respond to these stimuli with a combination of emotional, physiological, cognitive, and behavioral responses, including
- shortness of breath
- rapid heartbeat
- and an overall feeling of discomfort or being unwell.
It is not uncommon for patients to say things like “I am going to die,” “I feel like I am going to pass out,” or “I can’t breathe.”
While patients with extreme dentophobia and severe fear of the dentist will avoid dental visits at all costs, dental patients with milder symptoms often make a dental appointment and later cancel or not show up, only to repeat the process again and again. Dental professionals recognize this and are aware of the pattern. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to help overcome your fear if you don’t come to the dental clinic.
Other Types of Dental Phobias
Dental phobias are related to and contain components of other types of phobias, including trypanophobia (fear of needles), iatrophobia (fear of doctors), algophobia (fear of pain), haphephobia (fear of being touched), and claustrophobia (fear of being crowded or confined spaces). While the symptoms of dentophobia may present similarly, the root cause of the phobia may be a byproduct of differing inputs.
In other words, if you understand your triggers, it is possible to figure out how you got to be a dental phobic and address the condition accordingly.
A conditioned dental phobia occurs when someone has had a negative experience or a poorly executed procedure at a previous dental visit, particularly when it was their first visit to the dentist. They quickly learn that there will be negative consequences or unpleasant after-effects to deal with, such as the feeling of local anesthetic wearing off after a dental procedure, which leaves them with a negative impression.
Sometimes there was nothing in the treatment itself that caused any physical pain or discomfort whatsoever. Rather, the dentist or dental staff seemed cold and uncaring, unwilling to work with someone who is afraid of leaving a lasting memory or making the experience memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Fear of Catastrophe
This fear culminates in the overwhelming thought that something terrible is going to happen or will go wrong. The patient gets themselves worked up to the point that they expect to choke or pass out during a denture impression or have a heart attack when they need an injection.
Often, they have irrational thoughts that take over and are unable to accept any information designed to calm and help them through the process, such as soft music, dark glasses, or a caring, comforting voice. Prohibiting them from receiving dental health services.
Often patients experience their anxiety about dental appointments through indirect or vicarious pathways – listening to the experience and horror stories of others or from fictionalized dental encounters depicted in movies and television shows, whether real or imagined – and accepting the extreme fear of others as their own.
Parents and family members often transfer their own dental fears to children, causing psychological harm that can prevent children from receiving oral health services throughout their lives. It is amazing how tales passed down from other people can have such a disastrous effect and can stand in the way of living a healthy life if you let it.
Your experience doesn’t have to be someone else’s experience. Choose to form your own opinion about dentistry; start each dental encounter with an open mind and a blank slate.
Dentophobia and Dentures
While fears about dentistry can be crippling, dentophobia negatively affects the process of delivering dental services and getting dentures. Most dental procedures depend upon the dentist having a certain level of cooperation from the patient in order for the treatment process to be successful. If the dentist must wrestle with the patient to accomplish the simplest of tasks, the very best outcome will not be achieved.
Complex Denture Making
Denture-making relies upon obtaining an accurate representation of the patient’s anatomy in a relaxed state. If this is not possible, everything about the finished dentures will be compromised, including the fit, the appearance, and the comfort. Most patients will not wear dentures that are loose or they are otherwise not happy with, defeating the entire purpose of treatment. They may not seek dental treatment to correct the issue, either.
There are also patients who score higher on the dental anxiety scale and have convinced themselves that they will choke on their own dentures. While the dentures may fit very well, patients have an extreme and irrational fear that the dentures will become stuck and can’t be removed, resulting in an overly exaggerated gag response. Gagging, in many cases, is related to dentophobia rather than a stand-alone physiological condition.
Treatments for Dental Anxiety
Dental phobias are a continuum of conditions ranging from mild fear to severe, full-on panic attacks. Therefore, the techniques and modalities of dentophobia management must be tailored for each specific patient based on what works well for them.
Exposure therapy, a type of psychotherapy, is among the most effective solutions for dentophobia because it involves seeing the dentist on a gradual basis. You might start by meeting the dentist in a more relaxed setting, such as a consultation area, without actually sitting down for an examination. Then, you can gradually build to short exams, x-rays, and cleanings until you’re comfortable to take on a full appointment.
Some dentists help patients to overcome their fear through gentle dentistry and by explaining the procedures in a calming way in advance to reduce fear of the unknown. Positive reinforcement is another behavioral technique that may be used to overcome dentophobia. Praising the patient after a successful appointment can help boost confidence, diminish fear, and encourage additional treatment when required.
Distraction techniques are designed to help divert the patient’s attention by having them focus on something pleasant or enjoyable while the perceived negative activity is going on. This has been a common technique practiced by clinicians for many decades and can be achieved through calming music, watching television or movies during treatment, finding or counting objects in a picture mounted on the ceiling, or a physical distraction such as concentrating on another body part like wiggling toes or fingers.
Coping techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or hypnosis have positive responses from many patients suffering from dental phobias. Using these techniques, the mind is deeply focused on comfort and ease.
With hypnosis, for example, the area of the subconscious mind, where fears reside, is accessed while in a trance-like state. There, the subconscious mind is more easily able to accept suggestions to control fear, pain, and anxiety from a state of deep relaxation.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy, geared toward patients who have more extreme cases of dentophobia, appears to decrease dental anxiety and improve the frequency of people going to the dentist for routine care. CBT enables patients to manage fears by helping to gradually change the way they think about dentistry and dental treatment.
It is based on the interconnectedness of thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors. CBT for dental anxiety is often performed outside of the dental setting by a mental health professional or within the dentist’s office by dental professionals who possess advanced psychological training.
Top Professionals Can Ease Dental Fear
The highly skilled professionals at European Denture Center understand your trepidation about dental treatment. They focus on a positive patient experience and are committed to excellence by helping you reach your dental goals despite your fears.
In addition to the techniques discussed in this article, anxiety-reducing medications may be used in some cases to aid in delivering dental services. Understand all of your options before undergoing any treatment by scheduling your consultation appointment today!