For many people, the thought of going to the dentist creates a sense of intense fear or anxiety; in fact, up to 75 percent of US adults experience mild to severe forms of dental fear or anxiety. It’s not just adults – most kids also don’t like going to the dentist (and may even inherit these fears from the adults in their lives). Not addressing these fears at an early age can result in skipped visits and poor dental health.
What is dental fear?
Dental fear, like any other emotion, comes in varying degrees. Some people have mild anxiety when it comes to the dentist, so it’s only a small inconvenience. For a smaller part of the population (about 10 percent), it can be considered a “phobia” – a severe fear that prevents them from getting the dental care they need. This phobia may even worsen their fears because of the “avoidance cycle” it creates: because of their fear, people let dental problems worsen into emergencies that require invasive treatment, which only reinforces their fears of dentistry.
The roots of these fears can come from various sources. Patients may have previously had bad experiences in the chair, and these traumatic experiences may have scarred them against future appointments. Indirect experiences, such as hearing of a friend’s bad experience or seeing negative media portrayals of dentists, can also influence a person’s attitude toward dentistry. Children often learn their fears from their parents. A recent study even discussed the possibility of dental fear being linked to the brain’s reactions to certain sounds instead of pain from the procedures.
What are people afraid of?
While everyone’s fears are different, there are some common categories that are often seen in dental patients. Dental procedures can sometimes be complicated, and consequently many people are wary because they don’t understand what will happen in their mouths. This fear of the unknown can be paralyzing for some. If anesthesia is required, patients can become nervous about its effects and whether it will dull the pain or wear off in the middle of the procedure.
People may also be afraid of the loss of control and personal space. Lying back in a dental chair and having a dentist in such close proximity can intimidate some patients or remind them of other traumatic experiences in their lives. Unfamiliar dental tools, typically sharp metal instruments, can also exacerbate the patient’s anxiety.
The dentist may even be the source of people’s anxiety. Many people are fearful of a judgmental dentist who criticizes their dental habits and oral health. Persistent questioning and remarks about tartar or cavities can make even the most dedicated patients uncomfortable. Simple things like a good sense of humor and chair-side manner can quickly relax a patient.
How can you overcome those fears?
Dental anxiety can prevent potential patients from seeing their dentist regularly, which hurts their oral health and consequently their general health. The best thing patients can do to overcome fear is to communicate their anxieties to their dentists. Any good dentist should be concerned with his or her patients’ well-being in and out of the office, and should try to adapt their treatment to make the patient as comfortable as possible.
Dentists are usually more than happy to explain every step of the appointment – even while he or she is performing it. In most cases, this can alleviate any concerns about the procedure and its effects. For those who are uncomfortable with lying in a dentist’s chair, they should ask if the dentist can work with the patient in a more upright position. Parents should also take their children to the dentist early to teach them the positives of going to the dentist and instill good dental habits early.
Dr. Fitzgerald’s number one concern is making sure his patients get the best possible treatment, so when you make your appointment for your regular cleanings, you can be assured – he will be willing to meet your needs and make you feel as comfortable as possible.