Dental fear or phobia refers to the fear of dentistry or dentist and of receiving dental care. A pathological form of this fear is variously called as dental phobia, odontophobia, dentophobia, dentist phobia, or dental anxiety.
Fear of the Dentist is pretty common. It has been estimated that 9% to 15% of Americans avoid seeing the dentist because of anxiety and fear that is about 30 million to 40 million people. If you've had bad experiences with dentists in the past, it is very easy to make the assumption that dentists, in general, are bad people. There are varying degrees of dental anxiety and phobia. At the extreme, a person with dental phobia may never see a dentist. Others may force themselves to go, but they may not sleep the night before. It is not uncommon for people to feel sick or in some cases, to actually get sick while they're in the waiting room.
Causes of Dental Anxiety and Phobia
People develop dental anxieties and phobias for many different reasons.
Pain — 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 dental procedures.
Embarrassment — The mouth is an intimate part of the body. People may feel ashamed or embarrassed to have a stranger looking inside. During a treatment, the hygienist's or dentist's face may be just a few inches away. This can make people anxious and uncomfortable.
Negative past experiences — Anyone who has had pain or discomfort during previous dental procedures is likely to be more anxious the next time around.
Some of the signs of dental phobia includes:
- You feel tense or have trouble sleeping the night before a dental visit.
- You get increasingly nervous while you are in the waiting room.
- You feel like crying when you think of going to the dentist. The sight of dental instruments or of white coated personnel in the dental clinic — increases your anxiety.
- The thought of a dental visit makes you feel physically ill.
- You panic or have trouble breathing when objects are placed in your mouth during a dental appointment.
- If this describes you, then you need to tell your dentist about your feelings, concerns and fears. Your dentist will help you overcome these feelings by changing the way you are treated.
Treatments for dental fear often include a combination of behavioral and pharmacological techniques. Behavioral strategies used by dentists include positive reinforcement (e.g. praising the patient), the use of non-threatening language and tell-show-do techniques. The tell-show-do technique was originally developed for use in pediatric dentistry, but can also be used with nervous adult patients. The technique involves verbal explanations of procedures in easy to understand language, followed by demonstrations of the sights, sounds, smells, and tactile aspects of the procedure in a non-threatening way, followed by the actual procedure.
Pharmacological techniques to manage dental fear range from mild sedation to general anesthesia and are often used by dentists in combination with behavioral techniques. One common anxiety-reducing medication used in dentistry is nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas), which is inhaled through a mask worn on the nose and causes feelings of relaxation and dissociation.