The face towering over you with its large magnifying glasses feels so cold and clinical. With every scrape of the tool against your teeth, you feel judgment boring through you. The smell of latex gloves fills your nostrils as you struggle to breathe with someone else’s hands in your mouth. You attempt to swallow without closing your mouth and come dangerously close to gagging. Every moment is agonizing discomfort as you pray for the appointment to be over.
If the above scenario in a dentists office is a thing of nightmares for you, you may be struggling with Dentophobia (pronounced [Den-toe-fo-bee-ah]). Dentophobia is defined as the fear of dentists and/or having dental work done. It is also referred to as odontophobia (which is more closely associated with a fear of teeth). If you identify as a dentophobe you may be diagnosed with Other Situational Type Phobia — F40.248 (ICD 10 code).
Let me preface this section by saying this: It’s quite possible that I have inherited some of the worst genes when it pertains to teeth. It amazes me to this day that I can make it through a dentist appointment, but I digress. Here are the top reasons why the general population experiences dental anxiety.
In my formative years, I struggled to lose my baby teeth. My teeth would wiggle and loosen, but never seemed to fall out without assistance. My grandparents, whom I love dearly, employed some rather outdated techniques to “help” me lose my teeth. Apparently, the trend in their day was to tie the tooth to a string, and the other end to a doorknob. When the door is slammed, the tooth just magically pops out. Well, it’s didn’t work the first time it was tested on me. Nor the 2nd. So began the long trend of dental trauma.
Through my childhood, a trip to the dentist didn’t mean fun flavors of toothpaste and cute toothbrushes – it meant endless dental procedures. The worst instance involved the removal of six teeth. The adult teeth were descending around my baby teeth instead of pushing them out. So, in one fell swoop, I had them removed. I remember the dentist saying “It will just sound like popcorn popping” as he lowered some medieval contraption into my mouth and removed any dignity I had (I was a pre-teen).
Have you experienced similar childhood trauma? Were you like me, and only have difficult childhood experiences to draw from? This can lead to a conditioned fear that can be difficult to overcome.
If you continue to have negative experiences with dentists, it wears on you emotionally. As a child, your parents have the right to have a dentist care for your teeth (with your best interests in mind, of course). The more you are forced to see a dentist, the more the anxiety and dental fear builds — and the more you long to avoid it. As an adult, you’ve dealt with enough dental trauma to lead you to the choice of avoiding the dentist completely.
Your dental phobia may not stem from trauma, but instead, the instruments used by a dentist. Let’s be honest, their tools are disconcerting. Most dentists wear masks to cover their mouths, as well as peculiar magnifying glasses. They use mirrors, probes, cheek retractors, and let’s not forget this thing of nightmares — needles. The tools cause discomfort, and they can be fear-invoking. But they don’t have to be.
The most dreaded question I’ve faced at every dentist appointment is this: “How often do you floss?” My answer is always “rarely” (said sheepishly). While it is a dentists’ duty to admonish you and recommend proper oral health practices, they are also professionals. They have fixed cavities, seen dead teeth, and done root canals. Dentists treat gum disease and have seen rotting teeth. They’ve seen it all. If you’re dealing with something you deem embarrassing, odds are it is more important that you deal with the problem instead of avoiding the embarrassment. Your health could be at risk the longer you delay dental care.
So how do you overcome dentophobia? Here are some steps we recommend taking:
How to Teach Your Child to Like the Dentist
For more severe dentophobia, you can seek counseling. A therapist will work with you to develop a plan to address your dental fears and work toward being more comfortable seeing a dentist. You can search online to find a qualified professional near you.
Online counseling for dentophobia is also an option as more healthcare options are becoming available through the web.
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