Understanding Dental Phobia

***UPDATED 12/13/12*** Researchers are one step closer to identifying a potential origin for dental phobia, according to a recent Spanish study.  Scientists examined several children (ages 7-12) who display some fear or anxiety about visiting the dentist, and it turns out that those who showed the greatest signs of anxiety shared this fear with another family member, particularly a parent.   The study, recently published in the International Journal of Pediatric Dentistry,  specifically pinpointed the role of the father in determining the level of fear a child felt towards their dentist or dental work in general.  This is one characteristic many parents would likely not want to pass down to their kids.  Parental involvement in establishing good oral hygiene is critical, which includes adequate brushing at least twice a day, flossing daily, and visiting your dentist bi-annually for check-ups and cleanings.

Did you know that statistics suggest that nearly 15% of the population is affected by dental phobia? And some believe that because many are hesitant to discuss their fears, that number could be much higher.  In general, a dental phobia is defined as a fear of dentists and/or dental work, but there are actually many triggers that can cause an individual to avoid a trip to the dentist out of fear.  These triggers can cause a variety of symptoms with a wide range of severity, literally paralyzing some, keeping them from critical oral care that can influence their overall health.  Fortunately, dental phobia awareness has improved and many dentists are more sensitive and sympathetic to the condition.  There are several options available to assist those in this situation, so that they may benefit from the routine dental care necessary to achieve the highest quality of life.

Dental phobias can be stimulated by several senses.  Simply smelling, seeing, or hearing the different components of a dental office can be enough to trigger a panic attack or severe anxiety.  And still for others, the mere thought of visiting the dentist is enough to send them over the edge.  Some of the specific fears experienced include:

  • Fear of the dentist: Some people get anxious by their dentist because they view them as an authoritative figure, judging how well they’ve looked after their oral hygiene.  This fear typically stems from childhood experiences.
  • Fear of needles:  Many experience a fear of being stuck with a needle, and it can be very difficult to look away or focus on something else when the needle is injected into the mouth.
  • Fear of pain: Many associate dental procedures with pain and avoidance is a natural instinct.
  • Fear of anesthetics: Some fear not being able to communicate with the dentist if using anesthetics.  The thought of being unable to call for help is debilitating for some, and others worry that they will have adverse effects to the drugs.
  • Fear of dental equipment:  The distinctive sound of the dental drill is enough to send some into panic mode.  Again, the sound may be associated with previous, painful experiences.
  • Fear of being embarrassed: If fear has kept a patient from visiting the dentist for quite a long time, it’s not uncommon for them to also be anxious about the state of their oral health.  This only contributes to the overall phobia of visiting the dentist.
  • Fear of diagnosis: Many fear that a routine check-up will turn into an expensive and traumatic experience that includes bad news of an oral disease diagnosis.  Of course, the longer one waits to visit their dentist, the more likely this experience is to occur.

These are some of the most common causes of dental phobia, and many effected individuals experience more than one.  Understanding where the fear originates from is critical in accepting and overcoming the circumstances in order to receive necessary dental care.  Unfortunately for those who suffer from a dental phobia, the longer they wait to address this fear, the more likely a routine, minor procedure will turn into a more serious dental emergency.  Fortunately, more and more dentists are acknowledging dental phobias and taking great strides to be more supportive and understanding.  Dental equipment and special training have become much more conducive to the sensitivities experienced by some individuals.  Whether the use of sedation or simply a serene environment is what is necessary to help overcome fear, the professionals at Miami Dental Sedation Spa are ready and willing to help any patient overcome their fear and obtain crucial dental care.

Written by Mark Paulsort

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