Do you experience dental fear or anxiety when going to the dentist?

Have you ever felt so terrified of the dentist that you avoided going altogether? You’re not alone! Dental fear or anxiety, also known as dental phobia, can be a debilitating experience. If left untreated many dental conditions can have long term consequences. In order to maintain good oral health, it is vitally important that you to get help to overcome your fear. Understanding the problem is the first step to overcoming it.

Is dental phobia common?

It is probably not surprising that fear and anxiety at the dentist is a common occurrence. Recent estimates suggest that 75% of adults experience some form of dental fear, ranging from mild to extreme. Most of these people have only mild anxiety, but as many as 50% of patients who have a dental emergency have moderate to severe anxiety.(1)

What can cause dental phobia?

Dental phobia can have a number of causes, some of the most common include:

  • Painful or traumatic dental experiences.
  • Scary stories from friends and family about traumatic dental experiences.
  • Movies, TV shows and news stories about painful or scary dental experiences.
  • Sometimes people feel that they have no control during dental procedures.
  • Fear that your dentist will judge you about your dental health.
  • Uncertainty about what the treatment will involve.

What are the consequences of dental phobia?

The mild symptoms of dental phobia, such as feeling uncomfortable or slightly anxious, will typically resolve once your appointment is over. In more severe cases dental phobia can cause panic symptoms, such as sweating, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and dizziness. In the worst cases, these symptoms can cause patients to avoid the dentist, which can lead to poor oral health and exacerbate problems.(2)

The worst thing you can do is avoid having a dental problem treated due to fear of the dentist. Over time, small problems can become big problems, which require more invasive treatment to correct.

The good news is that anxiety at the dentist can be overcome, so that you can get the best care that you need.

How can I stay calm at the dentist?

Educate yourself

  • Ask your dentist for information about our procedure, so that you know exactly what will be done. This will reduce any uncertainties you may have about your procedure.(3)

Distraction

  • Distraction during treatment, such as listening to an iPod, is a useful way to prevent anxiety from impacting your treatment. However, it is important you are still able to communicate with your dentist.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

  • CBT is an effective way to overcome dental phobia, by helping people challenge their thoughts and feelings.(4) While CBT may not reduce your anxiety completely, it can help minimise it to the point that you won’t need to be sedated to receive treatment.(3) If have ever put off going to the dentist out of fear, CBT may be useful for you.

Sedation Dentistry

  • In the most severe cases, sedation may be needed in order to help you get the care you need. Modern methods of sedation are safe and effective, and can help you receive appropriate care when you are too afraid to be awake for a procedure.

Build trust and communicate with your dentist

  • Seeing the same dentist regularly is an effective way of building trust and rapport, and can help you be comfortable.(3)
  • By talking to your dentist about any fears or worries you have about a procedure, they will be able to help you manage your anxiety and keep your smile clean and healthy.