What is Dentophobia?
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).
- According to this study, 5-15% of adults have a severe fear of the dentist, and 3% will never see a dentist
- Also mentioned in the above study, 1 in 3 of the participants suffered from a “pathologically severe fear of dental treatment”
- In children, dental fear and anxiety can affect 5-20% of the population
Why are People Afraid of Dentists?
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.
Traumatic Childhood Experience
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 My grandparents, whom I love dearly, employed some rather outdated techniques to “help” me lose my teeth.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.
How to Overcome Dentophobia
So how do you overcome dentophobia? Here are some steps we recommend taking:
- Did you know that you can meet with a dentist without having any procedure’s done? It is sometimes referred to as “pre-treatment conditioning”. The goal of the meeting is to become comfortable in the office, to speak with your dentist and develop a rapport, and to ease your anxiety. This is a simple step that can greatly reduce your symptoms. Schedule this appointment today.
- When a dental hygienist is cleaning your teeth, it can cause some discomfort. This is especially true if the only time your teeth ever get flossed is at the dentist. You can let the hygienist know that if it becomes painful you become anxious. If you need to stop for a break agree beforehand on a signal. Knowing they will stop anytime you ask can ease your anxiety.
- Ask what tools they are using, what it’s being used for, and what you can expect to feel. A dentist’s office should be willing to explain everything in detail to you, and put you at ease.
- One of my greatest issues at the dentist was the fear of needles — having Novicane administered in order to have a procedure done. The long needles they use can be terrifying. However, it was never painful for me — they administer a numbing gel before the Novicane. The fear was more closely associated with the discomfort of knowing a needle was being injected into my gums. For me, it helps to take some deep breaths and have them talk me through every step they’re taking, while I didn’t watch. If your dental anxiety is associated with seeing the needles, ask for them to be kept out of your eyesight and to be given warning before it is used. It may also help you to familiarize yourself with the needles at a separate appointment, or even looking at photos online. This can help desensitize your dental anxiety.
- If you properly perform dental care, you can lessen the number of times you need to see a dentist. Flossing regularly also can save you discomfort as your gums won’t become irritated and bleed at your appointment. When you care for your teeth and don’t get cavities you can even avoid those Novicane needles!
- Lastly, choose the right dentist for you. There are dentists who specialize and work with people with an extreme dental phobia. They will even meet you outside their offices and go the extra mile to make sure you are comfortable. Do your research & find a good fit for you. The last dentist I saw had an updated office with massage chairs! They had rooms with windows that overlooked bird-feeders and wild-life to distract you. I was so relaxed during my appointment that I experienced very little discomfort.
How to Teach Your Child to Like the Dentist
- As soon as your children have teeth, help them learn how to brush them. Start by doing it yourself so they are used to another adult cleaning their teeth. Help them learn that it is fun to care for their teeth. You can even buy them cool toothpaste that will let them know if they missed a spot! Typically, they better their teeth are cared for, the less uncomfortable procedures they’ll need to have in the future.
- Start young: take your child to a dentist who specializes in working with children as soon as they have baby teeth. These dentists and technicians are adequately trained & are experienced working with kids. They know how to ease their fears.
- Be careful not to project your own fear onto your child. They won’t have the same experiences you’ve had — so let them have their own. If your child has had a painful experience in the past, remind them that it won’t always be that way. Ask them questions about what hurt, what scared them, etc. Be sure to relay these concerns to their dentist so they can help alleviate pain and help your child be comfortable.
- Dentists are good at rewards systems for kids, they’ll usually get a fun new toothbrush or some trinket to help associate positivity with the dentist. You can also play your part in rewarding your child with a positive experience after the dentist visit. Well — maybe avoid candy!
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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