Many of us who suffer with dental anxiety have a relatively manageable fear, one that does not prevent us from attending check-ups. However, for those experiencing dental phobia, the fear and anxiety is much more severe, with the dread of the dentist preventing people from attending appointments, even when in extreme pain.
Understanding dental anxiety & dental phobia
A person’s dental anxiety can vary from one end of the spectrum to another, ranging from slight uneasiness to severe anxiety and panic. If someone is experiencing extreme anxiety to the point they are refusing to attend dental appointments, this is usually a sign of dental phobia.
There is often a trigger that sparks dental phobia or anxiety. This could be the sound of a dentist’s drill, the lack of control when someone is putting needles into sensitive areas of the mouth, or the fear of pain itself. These triggers often stem from a person’s childhood experiences at the dentist, or a previously distressing dental procedure, inciting anxiety since that point.
Why do we fear the dentist?
Similar to fear and anxiety surrounding other objects, the causes of dental anxiety are not straightforward. Each person’s reasoning behind their fear is different from the next, see below for some examples that could cause dental anxiety and dental phobia:
A traumatic dental experience
It is not unlikely that a fear of the dentist has grown out of a previous trauma at the dentist, be it during childhood or in recent years.
Larger mental health problems
A phobia can be a biproduct of a larger mental health problem, such as anxiety, depression or PTSD.
Personal space discomfort
A dental procedure involves the dentist being in close proximity to a patient, very close to the face. Many people will feel uncomfortable with this closeness, or possibly feel self-conscious about their teeth.
Fear of needles
For some people, they have an extreme fear of needles, the injection itself, or a fear that the injection will not work, and they will feel the whole procedure.
Lack of control & helplessness
Being at the dentist and having a dental procedure means being sat in a dental chair, unable to see what’s going on. This can incite feelings of panic and anxiety as we can’t see what exactly the dentist is doing.
Fear of pain
The most common cause of dental anxiety or dental phobia is fear. It predominantly comes from an earlier dental experience that was particularly painful or unpleasant dental stories told from others.
Symptoms of dental anxiety
If you’re not sure whether or not you’re experiencing dental anxiety or dental phobia, read below for some common symptoms:
- The thought of the dentist causes you distress, you become tearful and panicky
- Your blood pressure dips with a risk of fainting
- Using humour or aggression to mask the feelings of anxiety
- Regularly missing dental appointments, regardless of whether they are routine or complex
- Trouble sleeping the night prior to a dental appointment
- Experiencing nervousness, particularly whilst sat in the waiting room
- Physically ill or feelings of uneasiness at the thought of going to the dentist
- Racing heartbeat of palpitations, and sweating
How it can affect your dental health
In avoiding the dentist, you are increasing your risks of having poor dental health. Plus, in avoiding minor routine appointments such as a check-up, you may need even more complex treatment in the future as a result of not taking care of your teeth initially – this is the vicious cycle of dental anxiety.
Regular visits to the dentist are the most effective way of preventing dental anxiety worsening, as you are taking steps to preventing larger problems and learning how to take better care or your teeth.
Those suffering with dental anxiety or dental phobia have an increased risk of periodontal (gum) disease and early tooth loss, as well as embarrassment over poorly looked after teeth that has caused discoloring or tooth damage.
Coping with dental anxiety
Dental anxiety or phobia is not something that can be solved overnight, but there are steps that can be taken to manage nervousness. It is important to inform the dentist about your apprehension towards dental procedures, having an open discussion about the triggers that can make your anxiety worse.
If as a result of dental anxiety, you have experienced early tooth loss and are feeling self-conscious of your teeth, consider dental implants. Premium Dental Implants offer intravenous sedation, ensuring our patients feel relaxed and at ease throughout the procedure. We understand your fears and will listen to you whilst providing a positive way forward.
Other positive steps to managing dental anxiety:
- Arrange an early appointment, this gives you less time to worry on the day
- Shop around and find an understanding dentist. Ask family or friends about their experiences with their dentist, or see if there is a nearby dentist that specialises in treating nervous patients
- Go to the surgery for an informal chat and look around prior to your first appointment. If you meet the dentist and receptionist and inform them of your concerns, it could alleviate some of your anxiety and they can put things in place to make you more relaxed on your next visit
- Take a friend with you to your appointment to provide moral support and an element of familiarity
- Agree a signal with the dentist to signify you need to stop for a moment, helping to put you more in control
- Ask the dentist about using a numbing gel if you have a fear of needles
- Take your headphones and listen to music during the visit, it could help you relax
To find a specialised dentist near you, use the NHS location search. Or to find out about Premium Dental Implants and intravenous sedation, click here.