A phobia of dentists, also known as dental phobia or dentophobia, is shockingly common. It can range from mild to severe, but is not officially considered a phobia unless it interferes with your life. True dental phobia can lead you to put off even much-needed dental procedures, causing havoc to your oral and physical health.
Dental phobia is actually a catch-all term for numerous specific fears. Although it is possible to fear almost anything related to seeing the dentist, these are among the most common fears:
- Needles: The fear of needles, or trypanophobia, is a highly common crossover phobia. Many people with the fear of needles are afraid of the dentist due to the numbing injections.
- Pain: Virtually painless dentistry has become the new norm, but this is a very recent development. Even today, some discomfort is to be expected. Those who have had a prior painful experience and those who are very sensitive to oral sensations are likely to fear pain at the dentist’s office.
- Choking: Having your mouth numbed can induce strange sensations, which can lead to a fear of choking or becoming unable to breathe. If you have ever had a choking experience, whether at the dentist’s office or somewhere else, you might experience this fear.
- “The Dentist”: Like Steve Martin’s portrayal in Little Shop of Horrors, dentists are often depicted as cold or even sadistic. Whether you have had a previous bad experience with a dentist or have simply been influenced by Hollywood, a general fear of “The Dentist” is not uncommon.
- Sensory Fears: Some people are simply more sensitive than others to the sights, sounds, and smells of the dentist’s office. If you have a more general fear of doctors, you are more likely to develop this fear, but some people develop specific fears of things like the dentist’s drill even without a generalized medical phobia.
As oral health is very individualized, the consequences of dental phobia vary widely between sufferers. Some people are at risk for dental disease after missing one cleaning, while others can go years between appointments with little negative impact to their oral health.
Regardless, dental disease is progressive in nature. A small, untreated cavity can eventually become a rotten tooth. As dental disease progresses, it requires more and more invasive procedures and can even lead to tooth loss. This makes fearful patients even less likely to make an appointment, as they know that extensive work will be necessary.
Finally, dental disease can cause pain and infection, which can gradually spread to the rest of your body. Generalized feelings of illness, as well as increased risks for heart disease and other serious conditions, can result from untreated dental issues.
Coping with Dental Phobia
Fortunately, today’s dentists have numerous options for managing your fear. Simply bringing in a portable music player or movie system can be enough to help you relax. Some dentists proactively offer soothing music, warm blankets, and other sensory tools to make patients feel more comfortable.
Start by calling the dentist’s office and explaining that you are nervous. Schedule an appointment to simply talk, without having any actual procedures done. You can discuss the tilt of the chair, the order of work, hand signals for indicating a break or the need for more anesthesia, and any other factors that concern you. Knowing that you can have some control can make a huge difference in your mindset.
Another excellent option is sedation dentistry. Nitrous oxide is often enough to curb mild fears, while oral sedation and IV sedation are better for more serious phobias.
If your phobia is severe, consider making an appointment with a professional therapist. Cognitive-behavioral techniques and hypnosis can help you get rid of your fears for good.
At Family Dental Care of Bellevue, we are committed to providing quality dental care to our patients and their families. We are proud to have been voted one of the best dental offices in Washington State. If you are ready to take the first steps toward improving your dental health, we invite you to call 425-643-5778 today to make an appointment for your initial consultation.