Fear of the dentist is one of the most common phobias around, with many people experiencing severe anxiety before and during dental appointments. According to research by the British Dental Association, a massive 25 percent of people experience extreme anxiety before going to the dentist.
Causes of anxiety and dental phobia
Fear of going to the dentist may be caused by several different factors; the most popular causes include a fear of pain, a negative experience in the past, a bad relationship with the dentist, fear of objects being placed in the mouth and a negative perception of dentists in general. Many people also feel embarrassed about the general state of their teeth and are afraid of the consequences of showing the dentist; this includes the dentists reaction as well as the need for treatment.
- Fear of pain is perfectly understandable; pain is never a positive experience and the mere thought of pain can trigger feelings of anxiety and nervousness in many patients. Sounds such as the dentists drill, which is often associated with pain, can also make people feel particularly nervous and may cause them to feel nauseous.
- A negative experience in the past can make people dread the same experience in the future; people who have had problems at the dentist during their childhood are most affected by this as the association between going to the dentist and negative experiences becomes instilled in their minds. Usually negative experiences are related to the feeling of pain but they may also be associated with a bad experience with the dentist.
- Some people have a phobia of things being put in their mouth, which can cause anxiety. The feeling of having metal instruments in the mouth can be really unpleasant; it often causes people to gag and feel slightly nauseous. The fear of choking is also a common phobia associated with having dental instruments put in your mouth.
- Many people have a negative perception of dentists, which is often unfounded and based on fictional characters on the television or isolated incidents in the news. The fear of going to the dentist is often passed between people and begins at an early age.
Tackling dental phobia
There are several techniques which can be used to try and reduce patients anxiety.
What dentists can do to help with dental fear
From a dentists point of view, it is important to try and offer encouragement and support to those who are particularly nervous about their imminent treatment. If the patient is embarrassed about the condition of the teeth, reassurance will ease their fears and help them to feel better about their dental health; in many cases, their fears are unfounded and dentist will have seen many cases where the standard of dental health is much more concerning. Many dentists now use techniques to distract patients attention during a procedure; this sometimes involves relaxation techniques, listening to comforting music and watching films on a screen above the head.
What the patient can do overcome dental phobia
There are a number of coping strategies that will help to control fear and anxiety; some of these involve tackling the problem face-on, while others rely on focusing the mind elsewhere and learning to relax the body. In milder cases of anxiety, patients can try and focus their mind on something that makes them feel safe and happy; experts often recommend imagining you are somewhere relaxing with a pleasant atmosphere, such as on a beach for example. Patients may benefit from listening to their own music or watching a film while they have their treatment to divert their attention away from the procedure.
In more extreme cases, counselling and hypnotherapy may be recommended; these methods will change the way the mind works and help to stop the association between the dentist and fear. Patients who really suffer with anxiety should discuss this with their dentist at the beginning of the appointment; this will allow the dentist to adopt a more sympathetic approach and arrange a treatment plan which will better suit the patient.