Dental anxiety and phobia

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Why are people anxious of dental treatment

1. Fear of pain.

The fear of pain is generally due to patient’s previous experiences before many of the recent advances in ‘pain free’ dentistry. Modern dentistry should not be painful!

2. Previous negative experiences.

Anyone who has had a traumatic dental experience in the past is more likely to be more anxious the next time around. However, it has been suggested that use of the term dental phobia should not be used for these people as their fears are natural and instead these patients resemble people with post-traumatic stress disorder due to their previous dental experiences.

3. Helplessness and perceived lack of control.

If a person believes that they have no means of influencing a negative event, they will experience helplessness. Research has shown that a perception of lack of control leads to fear, this is a perfectly normal feeling. The opposite belief, that one does have control, can lessen fear. For example, the belief that the dentist will stop when the patient gives a stop signal such as raising their hand lessens the fear. Helplessness and lack of control may also result from direct experiences, for example an incident where a dentist wouldn’t stop even when the person was in obvious pain!

The manner of the dentist is also important as if a patient feels they are ‘cold’ or ‘uninterested’ this may also increase the patient’s fear.

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4. Embarrassment.

The mouth is an intimate part of the body. People may feel ashamed or embarrassed to have a stranger looking inside. This may be a problem if they’re self-conscious about how their teeth look. Dental treatments also require physical closeness. During a treatment, the hygienists or dentist may be just a few inches away. This can make some people anxious and uncomfortable.

5. Non-dental experience.

Dental fear may develop because of a previous traumatic experience in a non-dental context. For example, bad experiences with doctors or hospital environments may lead people to fear white coats and antiseptic smell, which is one reason why dentist nowadays often choose to wear less ‘threatening ‘apparel. People who have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused may also find the dental situation threatening.

6. Indirect experiences.

Dental anxiety may develop as people hear about other’s traumatic experiences or negative views of dentistry. Finally the negative portrayal of dentistry in movies and even cartons can help foster an underlying anxiety of dentistry.

Consequences of avoiding treatment

People with dental phobia have a higher risk of gum disease, bad breath and early tooth loss. Avoiding the dentist may have an emotional cost as well. Discoloured or damaged teeth can make people self-conscious and insecure. They may smile less or keep their mouth partly closed when they speak. Some people can become so embarrassed about how their teeth look that personal and professional lives begin to suffer. There is often a serious loss of self-esteem. Our experiences at Sullivan dental is when patients complete their treatment under sedation, they feel so much better about finally ‘sorting ‘out their mouth. They really enjoy a healthy happy smile.