Today, dental procedures are truly pain free; however, just the thought of being examined can make some people feel extremely stressed. This is termed “dental phobia”. A phobia is an intense, unreasonable fear. People with dental phobia often put off routine care for years or even decades. They will put up with gum infections (periodontal disease), pain, or even broken and unsightly teeth. It has been estimated that about 30 million to 40 million people delay dental treatment. People often use the words “anxiety” and “phobia” to mean the same thing, but they are different. Those with dental anxiety will have a sense of uneasiness; dental phobia is a more serious condition. It’s an intense fear or dread. People with dental phobia aren’t merely anxious. They are terrified or panic stricken.
Avoiding the dentist may have emotional costs as well. Discolored or damaged teeth can make people self-conscious and insecure. They smile less or keep their mouths partly closed when they speak. Some people can become so embarrassed about how their teeth look that their personal and professional lives begin to suffer. There is often a serious loss of self-esteem.
Dental phobia, like other disorders, can be treated. Without treatment, dental phobia is likely to get worse over time. That’s partly because emotional stress can make dental visits more uncomfortable than they need to be. This means they may feel pain at lower levels than other people. They may need extra anesthetic, pre-medication, or other comforting treatments.
Causes of Dental Anxiety and Phobia
People develop dental anxieties and phobias for many different reasons.
Pain — Negative past experiences — In a survey of people who had not seen a dentist for 12 months, 6% reported fear of pain as the main reason. The fear of pain is most common in adults 24 years and older. This may be because their early dental visits happened before many of the advances in “pain-free” dentistry.
Feelings of helplessness and loss of control — Many people develop phobias about situations such as flying in an airplane in which they feel they have no control. It’s common for people to feel helpless and out of control, which may trigger anxiety.
Embarrassment — People may feel ashamed or embarrassed to have a stranger looking inside the mouth. This may be a particular problem if they’re self-conscious about how their teeth look.
Anyone who has had pain or discomfort during previous dental procedures is likely to be more anxious the next time around.
There isn’t a clear boundary that separates “normal” anxiety from phobia. Everyone has fears and concerns and copes with them in different ways. However, the prospect of dental work does not need to fill you with terror. If it does, then you may need some help overcoming the fears.
If this describes you, you need to tell your dentist about your feelings, concerns and fears. I assure you, he or she will absolutely help you overcome these feelings.
Please e-mail ANY dental related questions to:
Gentle Dental Providers LLC
1044 Lacey Road, Forked River, NJ
Dr. J.G. Rainieri
Dentistry can really be a pleasant experience: Let us show you how…
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