Dentophobia - what is it and how can it be helped?

What is a phobia?

Most people are scared of something, that’s granted, but not all fears are the same. 

A phobia is a very specific type of fear. Classed as an anxiety disorder, a phobia is consistent and often irrational. The main issue with a phobia is that the sufferer doesn’t understand why they have this fear. And that can cause great frustration and affect other areas of their life. It all depends how frequently they come into contact with the stimulant, thus triggering an anxious reaction. With Dentophobia these are normally regular appointments, unless there is a dental emergency. Compared to other phobias (e.g. arachnophobia) there is less of an element of uncertainty.

Physical symptoms of a phobia can manifest themselves as heart palpitations, nausea, sweating or dizziness etc. Or even thinking about the certain situation/object/animal/feeling/place can cause these symptoms and others to occur. Phobias vary in impact and can be anything from mildly irritating to highly debilitating, depending on the person and the fear as a whole.

The definition of Dentophobia

In simple terms, Dentophobia is a fear of visiting the dentist. Many patients do get slightly nervous when it comes to visiting, but this is a different situation. When an extreme fear manifests itself and a huge feeling of dread occurs before every appointment we can class that as dentophobia. If decay or gum disease has set in and a patient starts refusing to attend, the chances are that this will only worsen.

Also known as Odontophobia, the fear can be even more distinct and be associated with a certain procedure e.g. root canal. It can be referring to the feeling of going, sitting in the waiting room, being in the dentist’s chair, or even the whole process. There are certain aspects of dentistry which wouldn’t initially spring to mind when discussing dental anxiety. Seeing dental instruments (scaler, drill, forceps) can trigger dental fear. It sounds unlikely but smells can activate the phobia too, such as antibacterial soaps, eugenol or other compounds.

What are the causes of Dental Anxiety?

After defining Dentophobia and running through some elements that can trigger anxiety, let’s talk about the root causes. Bad dental hygiene usually corresponds with a patient having heightened anxiety is they fear the consequences. If teeth and gums aren’t being looked after, a guilty conscience can trigger dentophobia. But it’s not always purely exclusive to dentistry, it can be related to associated phobias listed below:

  • Algophobia - The fear of pain. More common in people over 65, this is the continuous fear of being hurt. Pain thresholds can vary greatly with some people being able to withstand huge amounts and others reacting terribly to small instances. Normal behaviour would be to act cautious in certain situations e.g. when broken glass is on the floor. But when excessive thoughts occur for days on end and they become irrational, that’s when algophobia may be diagnosed.

  • Trypanophobia - The fear of needles. Most common in children, adults tend to grow out of this phobia as their pain thresholds get higher. But some people do continue with trypanophobia as they get older and it can be detrimental to their health.  It can cause individuals to miss essential jabs and medical care, resulting in a higher risk of illness.

  • Iatrophobia - The fear of doctors. This can be further generalised to when enormous amounts of anxiety occur when dealing with any type of medical professional (including dentists). Another phobia which can be hugely damaging to someone’s well being and can result in them missing/delaying crucial treatment. 

  • Emetophobia - The fear of vomiting. This phobia is more specific to the dental industry as it can be tied with the fear of gagging. Often during a visit the patient is required to hold their mouth open for long periods of time while the dentist works away inside. Someone with a strong gag reflex may be extremely worried that their throat muscles will contract while this is going on. 

  • Aphenphosmphobia - The fear of being touched. This is only intensified when it’s by another person who the sufferer is not close to/comfortable with. As well as having a harmful effect on building intimate relationships, it’s known to be especially traumatic with members of the opposite sex. 

Previous Experiences

The most common cause for Dentophobia and most phobias in general, is that they are the result of a previous traumatic experience. This is what most behavioural psychologists conclusively agree. If the sufferer has had a previous experience that was particularly painful, levels of anxiety and overthinking can increase. It’s especially pertinent if the dentophobe had a negative experience on their very first trip to the dentist. All further trips can then be unnecessarily stressful psychologically. 

Genetics

At first glance, you wouldn’t suspect being anxious about a dentist probing around your gums could be hereditary. But it is accepted in the medical community that a previous disposition can be passed down genetically from parents. Family members who are known to suffer from other phobias, or have anxious personalities generally can have an effect on a person’s mental stability.  It is important to state that phobias can be the result of multiple causes. Including the environment, previous trauma and genetics. 

How common is Dentophobia?

The main element to remember is that dental anxiety (no matter how small) is common. 25% of the UK suffer from it, as quoted by the BDA (British Dental Association). Of those individuals, just under half suffer from what we’d class is Dentophobia.

Labelled as an extreme anxiety related to visiting the dentist, more often than not causing missed appointments. According to statistics women are the more likely candidates for being scared of the dentist, but the reasons for this are unknown. Because it’s classed as being a widespread affliction, if you are diagnosed or suspect you may have it, there’s no need to panic. Even though it may be irrational, fear of the dentist can be overcome. 

How to overcome Dentophobia

The positive element to all phobias is that they can all be beaten and overcome. There are a variety of techniques and support available for sufferers. You just need to choose the right one (s)  for you. Depending on the severity of said phobia, some may take more extreme techniques and different lengths of time but they can all have the same outcome. Here are several ways for overcoming dental anxiety:

  • It seems obvious, but talk to your dentist about it. That way they can develop an understanding of your situation and explain procedures in a calm manner. You can then help to gain an insight into why they are necessary and some will carry out dentistry in a gentler way if possible. This all helps to build a trusting relationship. 

  • Talk to a mental health professional. A frequent technique used is cognitive behavioural therapy, which changes your thoughts in a gradual manner. This process teaches you how to cope with having your teeth fixed, but doesn’t just throw you in the deep end.

  • Distract yourself! While your gums are being inspected, think of a happy place, listen to music, stare at a picture on the wall, think about anything apart from what’s actually going on. Imagination is key here.

  • Before the dental assistant begins teeth cleaning, mention that you have anxiety when it comes to the pain involved. If you both agree on a physical or vocal signal, your mind will be put further at ease. You can then ‘pause’ the procedure at any point. 

  • There is medication available that can be prescribed if need be to lower your anxiety. Laughing gas, xanax, valium can all be administered to calm your nerves. The lower heart rate can result in a more pleasant trip. 

  • Breathing techniques and meditation can go a long way when it comes to staying relaxed when your teeth are being cleaned.  Counting the number of breaths you take while deep breathing works a charm. This can be done before the procedure even starts in the waiting room, putting your body in a calmer state. 

Moving forward with your Oral Health

At Smilelign, we have great relationships with all of the providers of our clear brace systems. We thoroughly trust that all of the orthodontists will be respectful and understanding when it comes to patient communication. Including any fears/anxieties they may have. The process of obtaining a Smilelign brace is not a difficult medical procedure. But patients may have questions/reservations about the treatment. It is always best for the relationship between the patient and orthodontist’s team to be open and honest. This is especially true as it’s an ongoing process. Feel free to contact a provider today.

James CorryComment