Why People Are Afraid of the Dentist
While you may feel your fear of going to the dentist is unusual, it is actually quite common for people of all ages to be afraid of the dentist. For many, simply contemplating a dental appointment causes stress and a feeling of uneasiness. Fear of going to the dentist, also known as dental anxiety, dental fear, or dental phobia, affects people to varying degrees. Nevertheless, it is important to address, and hopefully overcome, these feelings of fear.
The most common cause of dental anxiety is having had a bad experience at the dentist in the past. Research shows that one traumatic experience tends to define the perception of how all future experiences will unfold – this is sometimes referred to as “conditioned” fear. These experiences included embarrassment (9%), fear (23%), and pain (71%). In one study, any one of these experiences equated to a 22.4 times higher risk of dental anxiety, regardless of the age of the individual when it happened.
Pain is the number one reason people avoid the dentist, and this is due to both past experiences and the perception that all dental procedures will be intensely painful. The truth is, there is some pain involved in dentistry. However, experienced dentists take care to mitigate pain, utilizing state-of-the-art technology, to ensure their patients remain comfortable before, during, and after treatment.
Furthermore, the irony of attempting to avoid pain at the dentist will lead to experiencing ever increasing pain from the problem itself – and it will still be necessary to eventually reach out to a dentist for treatment to alleviate the pain and repair the tooth.
Those who have not personally experienced pain at the dentist often garner a misconception of dental treatment due to how dental procedures are portrayed in movies and on television. The root canal is the most exploited and exaggerated example – often portrayed as extremely painful and invasive. This can, unfortunately, deter people from seeking treatment for dental pain and infection.
Lasty, well meaning parents often use the dentist as a deterrent when trying to convince their children to brush and floss their teeth – “If you don’t brush your teeth tonight you’re going to end up at the dentist with a cavity!” This subconsciously tells the kids that the dentist is something to be avoided at all costs.
Other Reasons People Fear the Dentist
Individuals with excessively damaged teeth, bad breath, or those who feel uncomfortable sharing personal space, may feel embarrassed as they sit in a dental chair. Others who avoid the dentist say they feel helpless and that they have no control over what is happening when they are at the dentist. This is one reason to be choosy when selecting a dentist for your family – a good dentist will always explain everything they are doing and will be happy to thoroughly answer any questions you may have.
Additionally, if parents are afraid of going to the dentist, their children will tend to model this behavior and avoid going to the dentist, even as they reach adulthood. This is yet another reason to keep up your regular dental appointments and show your children how going to the dentist can be a positive experience.
Lastly, many people experience a fear of needles that is not directly related to going to the dentist – but is the main reason they avoid dental treatment. It can be difficult for these individuals to accept the idea of receiving an injection prior to dental work. Yet for many procedures, a local anesthetic is necessary for the patient to be comfortable – which is an obvious conundrum.
Dental Phobia vs. Dental Anxiety
It is important to differentiate between dental phobia and dental anxiety. While there is not a clear line of demarcation, it is mostly understood that “normal” dental anxiety is less dire than dental phobia.
Phobias cause panic attacks, insomnia, crying at the thought of facing your fear, and even difficulty breathing. Dental phobia is called dentophobia or odontophobia and is characterized by an overwhelming panic at the thought of going to the dentist.
If you suffer from these intense symptoms, consider talking to a therapist. The repercussions of skipping dental visits indefinitely can have serious consequences on your oral health and your overall health. A skilled therapist can help with overcoming fear of the dentist and may also help you overcome fear of dental injections.
In contrast, dental anxiety can be overcome using more moderate measures, like distraction techniques. This is extremely important, because dental anxiety can grow into an irrational fear that prevents an individual from seeking necessary dental treatment. Finding the right dentist, who is willing to work with you and patiently answer any questions you might have, is key to eliminating dental anxiety.
The Worst Part of Avoiding the Dentist
The biggest issue when it comes to dental fear or anxiety is that, inevitably, your dental health will suffer. Unfortunately, even if you eat the healthiest of diets, brush your teeth faithfully and floss regularly, most everyone will still develop plaque and tartar under the gumline. This will lead to an increased risk of cavities, infection, and gum disease.
Prevention is always the easiest path to oral health. Seeing your dentist on a regular basis for professional cleanings and routine examination can eliminate the need for major dental work. While nerves and anxiety tend to cause procrastination, the result of avoiding the dentist is almost always the need for a more invasive procedure in the future. Additionally, without professional dental cleanings, you may develop gingivitis which leads to periodontitis, the most painful and deleterious form of gum disease.
Gum disease is difficult to treat once it gets to this point, and your oral health is not the only issue – recent studies show gum disease is connected to several serious systemic health issues.
Dr. Brian Homann
If you feel anxious when you think about visiting the dentist’s office, consider booking an appointment with Dr. Brian Homann, who practices minimal sedation dentistry. Dr. Homann, and his compassionate staff, strive to provide a comfortable and relaxing dental experience for all their valued patients. Additionally, he is happy to answer any questions you may have to help put you at ease prior to any dental treatment. Call to schedule an appointment today.