Dentophobia: Fear of the Dentist

“I’m scared of the dentist”, “I hate the dentist” and “I avoid going to the dentist” are common phrases that have been heard for the last 100 years.

The Oxford definition of fear ‘an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm’.

Fear of the dentist is also known as ‘Dentophobia’.  Is the fear of the dentist rational or irrational? Why are some scared and some not?  Common reasons of feeling anxious at the dentist include:

 

  • Direct learning from a previous traumatic experience
  • Culture - hearing stories from friends/family or the media
  • Personality traits - generalised anxiety and fear of the unknown

 

One must understand that if you have a fear of the dentist, it doesn’t always have to be this way and there are many ways that this can be alleviated or even cured.

Tips Include:

 

  • Find an understanding dentist that you are compatible with. It can make a massive difference
  • We choose which hairdresser we like, we choose our beauty therapists and we choose our personal trainers.  There is no harm in switching, the most important person in the relationship is the patient.  Some patients prefer a straight-talking dentist, some prefer dentists explaining more, some prefer a dentist that makes jokes and some don’t.
  • Once you’ve found your suitable dentist, tell them you’re anxious (try to avoid telling the dentist you hate him/her before you’ve even met them).  Having a little chat with your dentist at the start of your appointment will help the dentist learn more about you and he/she may work in a different way to help relieve your anxiety.  If there’s only certain parts of the dentist you don’t like (the chair too far back, the ‘pokey thing’, the needle) then share it with your dentist. Communication is key and can help make great strides in improving your dental experience.
  • Write your issues down before your first appointment. Sometimes you forget to say everything you want to say and having a small piece of paper or your phone to remind you can help you tell your story. 'Living Life to The Full' has an excellent resource you can use to tell your dentist about what your worries are.  
  • The early bird gets the worm. Appointments first thing in the morning can help alleviate anxiety as you have less time to dwell on the appointment.
  • The first appointment is usually a dental examination, meaning it’s a chance to look around, possibly take some x-rays and then have a discussion about your oral health.
  • Take a friend with you. The dentist won’t mind if you have some company with you and may help you feel more yourself (COVID situation permitting)
  • If you need to have various treatments, start off with the simple treatments (e.g. clean and polish) and work your way up to more complex treatments.
  • If you need to be numbed with an injection, talk to the dentist about your issues and the dentist may have some numbing gel that can make you feel more comfortable.
  • If music relaxes you and the radio at the dentist isn’t your genre, feel free to take your own earphones.  The dentist won’t mind and normally will just tap you on the shoulder if he/she needs to communicate to you.  Some dental practices have software such as Spotify and can change music to your taste.

happy dental patient in dentist chair

Dental Sedation

Depending on the treatment that's needed and your general health, you could be suitable for a referral for dental sedation.  There are different NHS and private options for this.

Inhalation sedation, also known as ‘gas and air’ or ‘laughing gas’ is a great tool used to help deliver dental treatment such as tooth removal and fillings.  You are still awake but it can allow you to feel more relaxed about what is happening and can easily be turned off if you don't like the feeling.

Intravenous sedation is given via an injection in the hand/ arm.  You will also be awake but this treatment normally gives you a much deeper level of relaxation.  Patients can often feel so calm that they may not remember what’s happened at all.  It has been likened to having a few drinks on a Friday night.   This form of sedation is usually only suitable for adults.

Sedation can work even better if you are able to practice some breathing and relaxation techniques before your appointment. Different mindfulness apps can help with this (e.g. Headspace or Calm).

Final note

Regular dental check-ups are key to overseeing problems early and tackling them before they get worse.  Treat your teeth and gums like a car, it’s important to get an MOT completed instead of waiting for the brakes to fail!

On most occasions, dental treatment can be prevented with a good oral hygiene regimen, healthy diet and lifestyle choices.

It’s important to have a chat to your dentist about how well your brushing is, whether you consume a lot of sugar (excess sugar can cause tooth decay), alcohol intake and smoking (can increase your risk of gum disease and oral cancer).

 

Want to keep learning? Find more articles from Dr Keval Chavda - Kev The Dentist:


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