Dental phobia is often misunderstood and underrated, but it is consequential and can lead to adverse dental problems. People who suffer from an intense fear of dentists can get so nervous that they miss dental appointments, resulting in severe oral issues that take longer to fix. Our dentist Bolton is highly aware of such issues and thus willing to guide through dentophobia with a thorough explanation for anyone who needs one.
Odontophobia vs. Dentophobia
Dental phobia is the same as dentist fear for most people, but the two manifest differently. Fear can make you dislike or want to avoid a visit to the dentist, but you never think about it until the appointment date. Phobia is more of anxiety that presents as a powerful form of fear and causes distress that interferes with your regular routine. You may be aware that the phobia cannot harm you, but you still get an overwhelming feeling that it will. Dentophobia and odontophobia are interchangeable terms, referring to extreme fear of dentists. Odontophobia is the official clinical term. The fear mainly manifests before the patient goes to the dental clinic, but sometimes it comes when you are in the clinic.
Some Facts About Dentophobia
The anxiety may be associated with embarrassment that causes deep emotional trauma. The embarrassing experience could be from a dental office or any other previous occurrence in life. Over 30% of people struggle with dental phobia. Most patients avoid dental visits entirely.
People with odontophobia are more likely to develop tooth decay because of their inability to see a dentist. The disorder can also have a negative influence on their lifestyle. Studies have shown that people with tooth decay do not smile often and may be less confident in public. That can hurt their self-esteem and quality of life.
You may come across two types of dental phobia:
One is dentophobia, which causes you to experience anxiety that keeps you from seeing a dentist even when you are in pain. The other is fear of dental treatment that is not as severe as dentophobia – you may be distressed about seeing a dentist but overcome that fear when you are in pain. In other words, dentist fear can cause you to dread but keep up with appointments, while dental phobia causes you to miss or cancel those appointments.
Chances of dentophobia are higher if other disorders like anxiety, panic, or substance use disorders already exist. However, common causes are usually incidences that occur in the person’s life, including childhood occurrences that remain unforgettable. You may have dealt with uncaring staff at a dental clinic, extreme discomfort, or intense pain at some point, leaving you anxious whenever you think of seeing a dentist again. Other traumatic experiences like bullying or sexual abuse can also cause dentophobia. Additional causes include:
Helplessness – Feeling like you cannot control what happens once you are in the dental chair can cause a phobia. The idea of being helpless for an extensive period with your mouth open can make you postpone the appointment.
Insecurity – You may not be comfortable with the dentist being close to your face. The insecurity could be from fear that you have bad breath or thinking that your teeth are not in the best condition. Other dental health issues you have can also contribute to the phobia. Problems like bleeding gums or pain that you do not know the source of may bring an apprehension about getting a diagnosis from the dentist. You may also fear potential scolding for missing several appointments.
Family history – Having a parent or family member with a phobia increases the chances of experiencing the same anxiety.
Modelling – Odontophobia can arise from hearing someone talk about their fear of dentists.
Why are People Afraid of the Dentist?
Patients dealing with extreme dental phobia can fear specific elements such as:
People with hemophobia dread dental procedures or any other situation that involves actual blood, no matter how minimal the bleeding may be.
Most dental processes involve pain, which is often terrifying for people who already fear getting hurt or those very sensitive to physical pain.
Fear of needles also generates fear of dental procedures, especially those involving injections.
Anesthesia tends to comfort most people, which is why the fear of the drug being ineffective can result in dentophobia. Other people can fear the after-effects of the drug.
Smells associated with the dental clinic or the substances used during a procedure can also be problematic to some people.
People who fear gagging or choking can imagine the same scenario in the dental clinic. The thought of not being able to swallow or breathe causes dental fear.
Noise generated by drills and other dental equipment can also be a source of fear for some people.
Previous negative experiences with a dentist can intensify the fear of a dental visit. In some cases, people perceive dentists negatively without prior experience.
Other disorders that can worsen odontophobia include:
Haphephobia – the fear of being touched
Algophobia – the fear of pain
Trypanophobia – the fear of needles
Iatrophobia – the fear of doctors
Emetophobia – the fear of vomiting.
Triggers and Symptoms
Understanding the triggers and symptoms can help you determine how to overcome the fear of dentists. Common triggers include impending dental visits, meeting a dentist, seeing dental equipment, lying on the dental chair, and getting into a dental clinic. That means you can be triggered before you reach the clinic, when you are getting ready for a procedure, or when the treatment is almost starting.
Dentophobia symptoms start soon after a trigger, and they can be mild or severe. You may feel dizzy, nauseated, chilly, lightheaded, or indigestion. Other signs of anxiety, such as hyperhidrosis, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, trembling or shaking, and stomach upset, may also occur. Emotional symptoms like lack of sleep before the appointment or crying when thinking about an upcoming dental visit are also possible.
Your oral care provider may recommend a psychologist or another mental health expert if they suspect you have dentophobia. There can be an evaluation highlighting the extent to which the disorder impacts your life before the best treatment or management solutions.
How do I Get Rid of Dentophobia?
Dentophobia treatment varies according to the severity of the condition. The common one is exposure or psychotherapy therapy, which involves exposure to situations that trigger the disorder. The treatment takes place in a controlled setting that allows you to overcome the fear gradually. The therapy can involve several elements such as relaxation or breathing techniques, viewing images or videos that are triggers, visiting the dental clinic progressively without getting treatment, and having a checkup with the dentist. The therapist may also introduce other coping mechanisms or distractions, like listening to music when undergoing a dental procedure. You raise your hand or notify the dentist when you need a break.
Therapy treatment has proven more effective than drugs in treating people with anxiety, but sometimes sedation is a better solution. Other situations may require the use of medication while undergoing therapy. Additional treatment options you can try include:
Cognitive behavioural therapy
CBT helps you uncover new responses to triggering situations by helping you change your perception.
A professional acupuncturist uses thin needles at specific points to release anxiety.
Hypnotherapy has been a way of dealing with stressful situations, and it can be used as part of relaxation therapy to highlight a different coping mechanism for dental fear.
Possible Complications from Untreated Dentophobia
Poor dental health and dentophobia tend to go hand in hand. You risk developing other complications if you do not seek treatment for the disorder. Tooth decay, periodontal disease, coronary artery disease, and respiratory infections are highly likely if odontophobia, another dentist phobia name, goes unattended for longer. Not to mention some of your teeth could go missing, affecting your ability to socialize and your overall well-being.
Scared of the Dentist but Need Treatment?
Dentophobia treatment takes time, but keeping up with dental appointments to maintain good oral health is vital. The following tips and coping mechanisms can help you keep your appointments.
- Consult your dentist before you go to the clinic. They will discuss the possible measures to reduce anxiety, such as medication, noise-cancelling headphones, and music.
- Go to the clinic with a friend or a loved one.
- Choose a fear-free dentist who can listen and work with you to reduce your anxiety.
- Agree on a signal with the dentist to notify them when you are uncomfortable and need a break.
- Visit when the dentist is not very busy. Most people avoid morning hours – that can be a suitable time for you. The chances of triggering the anxiety can be lower with fewer people and less noise around.
Find a Dentist Who Understands
You can ask for recommendations from friends or family when searching for the right dentist who understands odontophobia. Book an appointment and discuss your condition while evaluating your comfort level with the dentist. Do not rush the process – take time to find the best fit. Remember, dentophobia effects can be adverse if the disorder goes untreated. The right dentist or healthcare provider who knows how to overcome dentophobia can help you overcome extreme fear.