It is estimated that up to 20% of the United States population avoids the dentist due to dental fears or phobias. This means that as many as 64 million people are scared to attend a routine dental visit – only going to the dentist when it’s utterly necessary, if at all. Many different factors can lead to dental anxiety, like embarrassment or a fear of needles, with some situations being more extreme than others.
Without proper dental care, many unfortunate health issues can arise. Patients don’t have to stay away from the dentist any longer, though. With compassion and a heightened sense of understanding, dentists like Hall and Butterfield Family Dentistry can help alleviate your fears and get you back on the path to great oral health.
Am I Afraid of the Dentist?
Many people experience some fear or uneasiness when it comes to visiting the dentist.
Have you ever:
- Cried at a dental appointment or while thinking about having to go to the dentist?
- Lost sleep prior to a dental appointment?
- Felt nervous before a visit, only to have the feeling intensify in the waiting room?
- Been sick to your stomach when faced with a dental visit?
- Hyperventilated at the dentist or just thinking about an appointment?
If you have ever encountered one of the feelings listed above, you may be one of the millions who suffer from a dental fear or phobia.
Common Causes of Dental Anxiety
While some dental anxieties are rooted in psychological disorders, others can stem from scary childhood experiences.
- Fear of the Unknown or Having No Control – Many people simply hate the feeling of having no control in the dental chair. Since many dental issues cannot be diagnosed until the actual visit, there’s no way of knowing what instruments or techniques will have to be used during the visit. When you can’t prepare yourself mentally for what’s to come, it can be scary.
- Fear of Pain – Patients often have an unfounded fear of pain. They believe that a procedure will cause unbearable pain when it will actually ease whatever pain they are currently in. Included in this category are patients who have experienced anesthesia problems in the past, or are afraid that the dentist’s local anesthetic will not work on them.
- Fear of Needles – Trypanophobia is the fear of needles and injections. Even if a patient does not typically fear a dental visit, having to use a needle to apply anesthesia could trigger a negative response.
- Fear of Anesthesia Side Effects – When the dentist has to use a local anesthetic for a procedure, some people fear the side effects. Common side effects include numbness and cheek or eyelid drooping.
- Previous Dental Experiences – Countless patients hate the dentist because they’ve had a traumatic experience during childhood. Perhaps anesthesia didn’t kick in before treatment began or a hygienist mocked the appearance of their teeth. Whatever the cause, the thought of having to return to a dental chair is stressful and nerve-racking for many people.
- Embarrassment – Drug or alcohol abuse, smoking, or just years of neglect make many people ashamed of their oral health.
- Previous Abuse – Victims of sexual or domestic abuse often have issues when it comes to someone invading their personal space. Unfortunately, dental procedures require very detailed work – often resulting in the dentist or hygienist leaning over a patient’s body and close to his or her mouth.
- Mental Disorders – Sometimes fear of the dentist occurs as a side effect from another problem. Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, and other mood disorders can make someone irrationally afraid of the dentist without any specific root cause.
Dental Fears Versus Phobias
Dental fears are much different than dental phobias. A dental fear can be overcome if the situation is urgent enough – like severe tooth pain or a broken tooth. With a dental phobia, patients are so overwhelmingly frightened by the dentist that they will ignore pain or even tooth loss at all costs. To overcome their sense of dread, some patients must seek psychiatric treatment before dental treatment can be performed.
The Consequences of Avoiding the Dentist
Just like poor hygiene, refraining from routine dental checkups can lead to many health problems. Many people eventually develop gum disease, lose teeth prematurely, or deal with constant tooth pain. Although those oral health issues are serious on their own, gum disease has also been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Avoiding the dentist can literally be life-threatening, especially when an infection is involved.
Easing Fears One Patient at a Time
At Hall and Butterfield Family Dentistry, we understand that at least one out of every five patients we see has some sort of dental fear or anxiety. We talk to our patients about any issues or concerns at the beginning of every visit, and we invite patients to come and speak to us prior to their appointments to discuss their phobias or apprehensions in depth.
We can customize our patient experience by:
- Discussing the techniques and tools we plan to use beforehand, if necessary, to give you the knowledge you need to prepare for a procedure
- Applying the amount and type of local anesthesia that works best for you and your pain tolerance level
- Allowing a relative or friend to sit with you during your treatment
- Creating a signal to indicate that you need a break or have an issue
- Encouraging headphones and other devices that can distract your attention
- Making sure you are comfortable every step of the way
We strive to provide our patients with the best dental care possible. It’s not our job to lecture you; we simply want our patients to maintain good oral health. If you have a dental fear or phobia, contact us today. We will address your needs and tailor a treatment plan that will keep you relaxed, calm, and healthy. Let us help you get back in the dental chair and on the road to a dazzling smile in 2017.