Are You Afraid of Going to the Dentist?

Feeling fear or anxiety about visiting the dentist is more common than people think. If you happen to be someone who has a real fear of going to the dentist, you are not alone. According to WebMD, “between 9% and 20% of Americans avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear.” Why does this phenomenon affect so many people? And more importantly, how can it be managed so that fear doesn’t keep you from getting important dental work done? To answer these questions, we need to first understand the difference between general dental anxiety and dentophobia, as well as the signs and symptoms associated.

Anxiety vs Phobia

Of course, not everyone is the same. One person’s fear of the dentist might be minimal in comparison to another’s. Dental anxiety stems from an uneasiness about an upcoming appointment, whether it be a checkup, professional cleaning, or dental work. It is mostly associated with exaggerated worries and fears. On the other hand, patients with dentophobia experience extreme panic and terror. This condition is so severe that it tends to be difficult to manage. Patients with dentophobia are typically aware that their raw fear is irrational, but are just unable to stop themselves from being afraid.

What Causes Dental Anxiety and Dentophobia?

We know that dental anxiety and dentophobia are very real conditions, but what exactly triggers them? A common trigger is one that depends on a patient’s level of fear associated with past experiences with a dentist or other healthcare professional, particularly experiences that were negative or traumatic. However, there are plenty of other reasons why people fear the dentist so much, including:

  • Fear of pain
  • Fear of needles/injections
  • Fear of numbing agents not working
  • Sounds and smells increase anxiety
  • Fear of anesthetic side effects
  • Fear of loss of control/embarrassment of “invasion” of privacy
  • Preexisting anxiety, depression, PTSD, agoraphobia, claustrophobia, or OCD

Signs and Symptoms

A fear of the dentist can look and feel like a lot of things. Depending on the severity of the fear, the signs can appear minimal or in the case of dentophobia, they can be quite extreme. Some signs that you are experiencing dental anxiety or dentophobia include:

  • Sweating
  • Nervousness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Visible distress/crying/panic
  • Heart palpitations/racing heartbeat
  • Difficulty sleeping the night before your appointment
  • Feeling physically ill just thinking about visiting the dentist
  • Low blood pressure/feeling like you’re going to faint
  • Extreme uneasiness during dental treatment
  • Consistently canceling dental appointments

How to Manage Your Fear

Are you wondering how you can manage your fear of the dentist? There are plenty of approaches to help calm down your nerves, including:

  • Letting your dentist know what’s going on! Be open and honest with your dentist, let them know about your anxiety or dentophobia prior to visiting them. Some offices will first schedule a consultation to meet the dentist and talk with him or her in a comfortable setting. This is your time to let them know about your fears so that they can better accommodate you! It’s also a great way to find a dentist that is right for you, one who cares about your fears and wants to make you feel as comfortable as possible.
  • Reaching out to a mental health professional. If your dentophobia is particularly severe, medication and therapy might be the best course of action for you.
  • Distracting yourself. Some patients find it easier to get through their appointments by listening to music or a movie through some earbuds. This allows your brain to focus on something else, rather than the buzzing and whirring of dental tools.
  • Practicing mindfulness techniques. Deep breathing and meditation have proven to help get patients through their dental appointments.
  • Sedation. Some offices may require management of your fear and anxiety, if paralyzing enough, by means of happy gas, anxiety medication, or twilight sedation, or general anesthesia.

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