Dr Hannes Scheepers, BChD (Pret),
Director and Primary Dentist at Dainfern Dental Studio
An overview on the cause, effect, and subsequent treatments for the phobia that is dental anxiety
If your normal, run-of-the-mill dental appointment leaves you feeling faint, sweaty, distressed, tearful and panicky, then it’s possible you suffer from an extreme, irrational fear of your dentist. And while this scenario may sound like a scene that is taken straight out of a B-grade horror movie, it is actually a very real phobia – and one that requires urgent attention.
1 Children’s fear of the dentist is a common phenomenon, with 1 in 10 children being impacted by this feeling. Now, while some may eventually overcome the angst of being forced to have a dental-check-up twice-yearly, not all of us are so lucky. In fact, if dental anxiety is not addressed quickly and effectively, it may lead to an even greater fear: one that results in poor oral health, as well as possible health problems overall.
Consequences of dental anxiety
Bad oral health
When one considers all the eating, talking, drinking, kissing and smiling we do, it’s little wonder that poor oral health can impact our lives so negatively. What’s more, teeth problems can prevent people from engaging in social situations, as they often feel very self-conscious about their bad breath (which is, after all, par for the course of this condition).
Another confidence buster is flashing a smile with some pearly whites that are evidently missing (even if it’s a small smile). Not only is this unsightly, but it also makes it difficult to eat and chew (a real nightmare for those who love their food!)
Gingivitis and periodontitis
The above dental diseases can also have detrimental effects on a patient’s general health, knowing that there is a proven link between dental bacteria and heart disease.
Now, what’s truly alarmingly is that people with dental anxiety would rather wait until whatever oral ailment they’re suffering from becomes so unbearable, they ultimately
have no choice but to go to the dentist (even though they’re well aware of the health risks if they don’t have regular dental check-ups).
There are a several reasons why people develop this condition, for example:
- 1A previous dental experience that was painful and unpleasant
- A loved one’s reaction to a negative dental experience, or horror stories told by other (this includes the perception set by the media)
- An uncaring dentist – especially one that does not manage patient pain and has no bedside manner
- A history of being bullied about their teeth1
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Other contributing factors include the sound of a drill (or any dental equipment for that matter), fear of needles, and the powerless feeling of lying on the dentist’s chair.
Strategies to help manage patients with dental anxiety
Firstly, it is crucial for both adults and children to start associating positive feelings with dental exams, which, obviously, all starts with the dentist. Kids are indeed the most important patients of all.
Secondly, it’s all about the experience. Dentists must focus on every patient, ensuring they feel calm and relaxed. And no matter what level their dental anxiety is at, or how bad an experience they’ve endured, it is extremely important for patients to not only choose the right dentist (one with whom they’re comfortable with), but to also keep in mind that because dental technology and procedures have completely evolved from years past, it is now possible to have a pleasant dental experience.
When dental phobia arises
In cases where dental anxiety becomes so severe that is leaves one crippled, it might be best to consult with a trained mental health professional before starting dental treatment.
And yes, while cognitive behavioural therapy, medication, and hypnosis are all effective modalities in helping control anxiety, I still believe that a pleasant and pain-free dental experience is, above all else, key in conquering this fear once and for all.
- 1Dr Angela Pu – BOH Dental
- 2Dental Anxiety – What Is It and How Does It Develop