The Roots of Dental Anxiety and Dental Phobia, Symptoms, and Solutions

As explained in our recent post, “Dental Anxiety and Dental Phobia: When People Are Afraid of the Dentist," we discussed the difference between dental anxiety and a dental phobia. We also briefly touched on sedation dentistry and how it’s been a great solution for some who experience these issues associated with dental procedures.

An overview of dental anxiety and dental phobia…

But let’s dive a little deeper into understanding dental anxiety and dental phobia since it’s fairly amazing how many people experience such problems.

As we shared in our previous piece:

"Dental anxiety affects a surprisingly large number of individuals. An article by Colgate on dental anxiety and dental phobia states, “Dental anxiety and phobia are extremely common. It has been estimated that 9% to 15% of Americans avoid seeing the dentist because of anxiety and fear. That's about 30 million to 40 million people. In a survey by the British Dental Health Foundation, 36% of those who didn't see a dentist regularly said that fear was the main reason.”

Furthermore, it’s an unfortunate fact that suffering from either of these two conditions can mean bad news for a person’s dental health and subsequently, their overall health as well.

What are some of the causes of dental anxiety and dental phobia?

As we explained in the previous article, dental phobias may have no specific source. A phobia is often unexplainable—making it super hard to treat or especially, cure.

On the other hand, there are certain situations where dental anxiety – if experienced often enough or to a significant degree – may escalate into a dental phobia.

Below are some of the common causes of dental anxiety.

Dental patients are afraid of pain—or the thought of potential pain.

Even though most dental procedures don’t cause pain, the possibility of pain is enough to create dental anxiety in a lot of people. Interestingly, this cause is most common in individuals age 24 and older. Some experts say it’s because we go to such efforts to prevent pain, or alleviate dental anxiety, for children but don’t carry this same concern and attention over to young adults and older persons. Consequently, they might have one “bad” (semi-painful) experience. Combined with the folklore associated with severe dental pain and rare issues or mishaps, this starts to create an anxiety associated with the dental visit.

Dental anxiety is a “control thing”…

A lot of anxieties and phobias begin with a fear of losing control—or not ever having control to begin with… Helplessness, in fact, is one of the most common causes of anxiety. That’s why many are afraid to fly, afraid of heights, afraid of bridges, crowds, etc. There are persons who experience dental anxiety and phobias for this very reason too.

Self-consciousness can provoke dental anxiety

Some people experience anxiety thinking about having their mouth open – and how this will look – during their dental visit. Or they get anxious about the very act of having to hold their mouth open that long. And even others… just don’t like the idea of someone prodding around in their mouth. These thoughts can all be anxiety-producing either before or during their appointment.

Blast from the past…

As mentioned above, one bad experience might be all it takes for someone to start suffering from dental anxiety or to escalate dental anxiety into a dental phobia.

Symptoms of dental anxiety and dental phobias – how to tell if you have a problem

  • You are tense either just thinking about your appointment or at your appointment
  • You put off dental appointments and treatments longer than you should
  • Your heart might start racing a little – or you get nervous – when you pull into the parking lot or are in the waiting room. You may even feel slightly “ill.”
  • When someone talks to you about their dental visit or mentions the dentist, you don’t want to hear it or talk about it.
  • You don’t feel consciously anxious but something frequently “comes up” (illness, schedule conflicts, etc.) that causes you to reschedule or cancel dental appointments
  • You feel like you can’t breathe or swallow right when in the dental chair or during dental procedures

What can you do about dental anxiety and dental phobias?

The first thing to do – as with any other issue you might have – is recognize you have a problem. The symptoms above will help you determine if you suffer from dental anxiety or dental phobia. If so, TALK TO YOUR DENTIST!

Most family dentists and pediatric dentists are more than willing to discuss your dental fears with you. After all, we want you to take care of your dental health AND enjoy coming to see us.

As we also discussed in our other article on dental phobias and dental fears, sedation dentistry is an option offered by some dentists and dental practices. This involves the use of certain interventions to help patients relax during their dental appointments.

With some dentists who offer sedation dentistry, there is even an election for those with severe dental phobias to be semi-under during their visits so they aren’t “aware” at all during their procedure(s) and have little to no memory of it/them either after the fact.

That being said, if the phobia is completely preventing you or a loved one from even entertaining the idea of a dental visit, it’s probably a good idea to seek psychological treatment. A dental phobia is nothing to be ashamed of, and can be treated just like other phobias. Since those who receive regular dental care have a longer life expectancy than those who don’t, it’s vital to get past the fear somehow and get in to have proper dental care on a regular basis.

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