Dental phobia, also known as dentophobia, is an irrational fear that prevents people from getting needed oral health care. It can be overcome through cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques.
Psychotherapy treatments such as exposure therapy can help reduce anxiety by slowly introducing a person to the stimuli they fear. This may begin with a consultation visit and then move to short exams, x-rays, and cleanings.
Fear of Injections
Many dental procedures rely on anaesthetic injections to make patients comfortable. Patients who have a fear of needles can become anxious or even panicked. This can make it difficult to have treatment that might improve their oral health.
A recent study found that children who are afraid of intraoral injections are more likely to avoid dental care than those who do not. This type of anxiety can lead to dental caries, which are cavities in the teeth. A longitudinal study following a group of adolescents from age 15 to 18 years found that those with high dental anxiety had more severe dental caries than the other participants in the study.
A technique called cognitive behavioral therapy can help overcome a patient’s fear of needles and injections. The technique involves gradual and controlled exposure to a hierarchy of anxiety-provoking steps related to intraoral injections. A trained psychologist or therapist can help a patient to confront their fears and overcome their anxieties in a safe and supportive environment. This approach is now supported by regional clinical guidelines in Region Vastra Gotaland, Sweden.
Fear of Drilling
Often, the sound of a dental drill or other equipment can trigger a dental anxiety attack. People who have this fear might be able to handle most other aspects of dental treatment, but the sound of the drill or other instrument can make them panic. Drills and other dental tools make a high pitched noise that is very unnerving to many people.
A common source of dental fear is a traumatic past experience in childhood. These experiences can be associated with anything from a pulled tooth to a negative interaction with a dentist. Fear can also stem from hearing stories about harrowing dental visits from loved ones or seeing depictions of bad dental experiences in movies and advertisements.
Psychological treatments like cognitive behaviour therapy can help people with this type of anxiety. Other techniques that may be useful include distraction, exposure and hypnosis. If you have extreme anxiety about going to the dentist, consider a consultation with a mental health professional before booking a full examination. A therapist can teach you breathing and relaxation techniques, as well as expose you to images and situations that could trigger your symptoms in a controlled setting.
Fear of Pain
The fear of pain is one of the most common causes of dental anxiety and phobia. It is often rooted in a negative traumatic experience experienced during childhood or later in life. This is why it is important to understand the aetiology of dental phobia.
People who are terrified of going to the dentist will avoid it at all costs, putting their health at risk in the process. This can lead to severe gum disease, broken teeth and tooth decay. It can also cause social problems and feelings of shame and inferiority.
The good news is that there are ways to reduce the impact of this irrational and persistent fear. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), hypnotherapy and medication can all be used to treat dentophobia. The most effective treatment is usually a combination of these. The key is to gradually expose the patient to the object or situation that triggers their anxiety in a safe and controlled environment. Applied relaxation and cognitive restructuring are other crucial elements of this approach. It is always advisable to consult with a psychologist with formal CBT training to assess the case and provide a diagnosis before starting treatment.
Fear of Social Stigma
When a person avoids visiting the dentist because of fear, he or she can end up with painful or infected teeth. This can lead to embarrassment, a lack of self-confidence and poor work performance. For some people, this can also cause depression.
Like other anxieties and phobias, dental anxiety may be caused by trauma or bad experiences in childhood. Moreover, the way diseases and illnesses are portrayed in the media can trigger fears. For example, when leprosy or HIV are portrayed as dangerous and highly contagious, people might fear they will be socially shunned if they get sick.
Some people with dental anxiety find relief by using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a proven technique for managing many anxiety disorders. A psychologist with CBT training can guide patients through gradual exposure to anxiety-provoking situations and objects while teaching them coping skills. These include progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing and cognitive restructuring to identify and challenge dysfunctional thoughts. Some people with severe dental anxiety can benefit from a more intense treatment, including sedation. This is often used for procedures that require a prolonged time in the dental chair and usually requires a loved one to drive them home afterward because of lingering drowsiness.
Fear of Infection
People with dental anxiety often avoid visits to the dentist. This can cause their oral health to deteriorate, resulting in tooth loss and gum disease. This in turn may make them even more reluctant to visit the dentist, creating a vicious cycle.
While a fear of pain and injections is the most common reason for dental phobia, it can also be caused by other factors. For example, someone who had a bad experience at the dentist as a child could develop a generalized anxiety disorder that makes them afraid of any kind of medical treatment, including visits to the dentist.
Research on the etiology of dental fear is limited, but there are several potential causes. One hypothesis is that dental fear results from cognitive biases, whereby memory of threat-consistent information is more likely to be retrieved than non-threatening information. Other potential aetiological factors include cultural influences, learning processes, and biological responses. Identifying these factors may help dentists better understand and treat dental anxiety. Moreover, this can improve patient outcomes and reduce workplace stress for clinicians.