Unfortunately Dental Phobia and Dental Anxiety can be a common occurrence, after all who really likes visiting the dentist?
Even though most dentists are amazing and do a great job, dental anxiety can easily cause most people to avoid seeing their dentist all together! Dental hygiene is really important, not just for your teeth but your overall health too. While you may feel ‘alone’ in your fear of the dentist, it’s actually one of the most common phobias in the UK.
Sometimes it can be difficult to know exactly where to start with a phobia, however it’s never as bad as you may think. Just by visiting this page you’ve actually made a start already!
What is Dental Anxiety?
Dental anxiety can also be labeled as ‘Dental Phobia’, the generic fear of dentists is actually called dentophobia.
Dentophobia basically means that a person cannot visit their dentist without having a panic attack or suffer from some form of anxiety.
The types of anxiety symptoms can present themselves in different ways. For some people it can be a ‘tight’ feeling around their jaw or neck, shaking hands, feet or other body parts, their minds can be ‘racing’ or they may feel like their heart is ‘beating’ out of their chest.
Other people can experience visual disturbances, sweating and feeling faint. While this is not a definitive list, these types of symptoms are very common and are typically nothing to be concerned about.
It has been stated that around half of UK adults have a fear of the dentist . Equally 12% of these suffers have an ‘extreme’ dental anxiety and women are more likely to suffer than men. In addition to this visiting the dentist is ranked number one (22%) for making people nervous. This is even more popular than people’s fear of heights (19%)
When people have an anxiety to something, it becomes ‘easy’ to avoid the stimuli. While this may help in the short term it actually makes the phobia much worse over a prolonged period of time. Some dental anxiety sufferers can go years without visiting a dentist. This means when they do eventually go, they may more extensive and complex work doing.
Typically it’s recommended to visit the dentist and the hygienist once every six months. This enables your dentist to keep on top of your oral health and treat infections or tooth decay more easily.
Common Dental Fears in the UK
Common dental feats can be easily broken down into sub-sections, these can include:
• Fear of Dentists – It goes without saying that most dentists are lovely people, both inside and outside of the workplace, however for a person with dental anxiety, a dentist can seem like an adversary. Generally speaking most fears of dentists stem from childhood, whether that’s a bad experience or a general dislike of having to visit a dental practice.
Just like teachers, dentists tend to be ‘authoritarian figures’, they can condemn, praise or lecture us about how good or bad our teeth are. Typically most of the time they always point out something we could be doing better; thus our self-confidence takes a hit. Whether or not this factor plays a deeper role into psychological makeup is something, which has been widely debated for decades.
• Fear of Pain – Nobody wants to be in pain and the avoidance of pain is a natural instinct. However at the dental office most pain tends to be reduced with an injection. If you have a fear of injections this can obviously lead to more anxiety. You should always speak to your dentist and ask them to explain all of the procedure in detail, so you can overcome your fears more easily. While this is easier said than done, it tends to help most people in the majority of situations.
• Fear of Needles – The general fear of needles is a common phobia, that not only affects people sitting in the dentist’s chair, it affects people from all walks of life. Even though the needle ‘pain’ is only a slight scratch, the feeling can really cause a lot of anxiety. It can be hard for people to divert their attention onto something else and cause their anxiety to skyrocket. If you need an injection in your gum, always try to listen to music to get your mind onto something else. Equally another good idea is to ask for a ‘non-adrenaline’ injection, this should help to keep your anxiety levels lower.
• Fear of Choking – Unfortunately you need to open your mouth at the dentist; otherwise no work can be done. The fear of choking isn’t only common at the dentist’s; it can be common in other situations too. If you’re suffering from this fear, it can be a good idea to ‘practice’ opening your mouth before your next visit.
• Fear of Numbness – Remember that having an injection is actually for your benefit. For some people the fear of numbness while at the dentist’s can really put them off going. Nobody likes to ‘lose control’ or be afraid that they will be unable to talk to the dentist, however in most cases the level of numbness is usually minimal and wears off pretty quickly after the dental treatment has been completed. If you need fillings or injections on both sides of your mouth, it’s always a good idea to have two different appointments on different days. This is so the numbness ‘feeling’ will only be on one side of your mouth, so you still feel in control.
• Fear of Anesthetics – Typically most people do not fear anesthetics themselves; they usually fear how they’re administrated. Some people hate the feeling of ‘going under’ or ‘losing control’. Other people don’t mind the initial stages of anesthetics, however they tend to worry about the after effects of ‘waking up’ in pain.
Obviously medicine and dental treatments come along way over the last few decades, anaesthetics have never been ‘safer’ than it is today. Remember that your dentist and the assistants have been highly trained and are constantly tested by dental associations so they maintain high standards at all times.
• Fear of Dental Sound – While the dental drill may not be the most pleasant sound in the world, unfortunately for some people just hearing that iconic noise can easily set off an anxiety attack. Before your next appointment it can be a good idea to slowly ‘introduce’ the sound to your body. This means listening to it for a few seconds at a time and build your resistant up. While this is easier said than done, eventually over time you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about!
• Fear of Losing Control – Nobody wants to feel like they’re not in control of a situation. Unfortunately going to the dentists tends to mean we need to TRUST a stranger who is poking around inside of our mouths. Losing control is a common symptom of anxiety; this can easily make the body feel more tense.
It can also mean that a person’s ‘flight or fight response’ is heightened, this usually occurs at the wrong time, just as the dentist says ‘open wide’. Being worried about losing control, fainting or making a fool out of yourself is a completely nature reaction.
Do I need to identify my Dental fears?
In ‘most cases’ dental fears generally do not go away by themselves, they require effort. This can range from breathing techniques, exposure and familiarity with a dental surgery and how it operates.
Typically it’s always a good idea to let your dentist know exactly what fears you have. This will mean they will be able to help you more easily to make your dental visits more comfortable.
Believe it or not, some dentists even hate going themselves! It’s important to remember that dental treatments have come along way over the last couple of decades. This means most dentists understand how anxiety can affect their patients and the majority will have had some form of training to help nervous people.
Generally it’s a good idea to ask yourself a range of questions to see how you can control and understand your dental phobia more easily.
These questions can include the following:
• What do I expect from an ideal visit to the dentist?
• Do I prefer a male or female dentist?
• Is there some part of the treatment I dislike?
• How can the dentist make my visit more comfortable?
• Can I practice at home before an appointment?
• What’s the worst thing that can happen to me?
While you may not be able to answer all of these questions straightaway, please view the example question and answer section below.
While this is just an example, it should give you some idea of how you may be able to understand your fears more easily.
What do I expect from an ideal visit to the dentist?
I would like my dentist to understand my fears and stop if I feel like I’m losing control of the situation. Before the dentist starts I plan to ask communicate by hand signals. When I would like to rinse I will raise my hand and the dentist will stop. This should allow me to control my anxiety more easily.
Do I prefer a male or female dentist?
I prefer a female dentist, in my experience they have been more understanding to my needs.
Is their some part of the treatment I dislike?
I dislike the feeling of losing control
How can the dentist make my visit more comfortable?
I would like my dentist to explain everything they are going to do, and how long it will approximately take.
Can I practice at home before an appointment?
I can attempt to open my mouth to practice. Maybe starting off for a few seconds at a time and gradually building up.
What’s the worst thing that can happen to me?
The worst thing that can happen is I make a fool out of myself, if this happens I’m sure the dentist would be sympathetic. I doubt I will be the worst patient they’ve ever had.
As you can see by looking at your fear in more detail, you can easily try to build an outline of what you plan to do. This can decrease the pressure and stress you place on your body and make your next dental visit more comfortable.
How to Cure Dental Phobia
Unfortunately there’s no magical ‘cure’ to get rid of dental anxiety, it will take a little time and some practice, however it’s certainly not impossible. Equally it’s not a ‘life sentence’ and you should never feel that it would restrict you from visiting the dentists in the future.
In most cases, dental fears stem from a childhood experience, while this isn’t nice, it’s important to remember that you’re a different person now and you can overcome your fears.
The first thing you need to do is to identify the exact thing you fear about the dentist. Then it’s all about small ‘baby steps’ as you slowly progress forward. Do not place too much expectation on yourself at the beginning; this generally only makes you feel more anxious. By taking small steps you begin to build up more confidence, which in the end leads to ‘bigger’ leaps forward.
Remember no matter what type of dental phobia you have, communication with your dentist is always recommended so they know exactly what you fear before any treatment starts. Usually it’s a good idea to create a ‘hand signal’ with the dentist, so they know when to stop if you feel a panic attack occurring. This can simply be a raised hand.
How to Cure The Feeling of Numbness at the Dentist
A common fear when visiting the dentists is the fear of feeling numb. For most dental treatment such as regular fillings, crowns, root canals and so on. The dentist will injection a local anaesthetic into your gum, so that area of the mouth can be free of pain while the work goes ahead.
Typically the numbness only lasts for around an hour or two after the treatment, however for some this feeling can cause panic and anxiety.
The only real method to try and overcome this feeling is to practice at home before your next appointment. A good idea is to purchase Tyrozets or other throat numbing medicine. This can be purchased over the counter at most supermarkets and pharmacies.
While it may not numb the side of the mouth your dentist is going to be working on, it will give you a general feeling of how the numbness feels. Once you get use to this feeling, overcoming the fear of numbness is made much more easier.
How to Overcome the Fear of Anaesthetics
The fear of anaesthetics is a common phobia, this can affect people from all walks of life. Typically a dentist will use a local anaesthetic to help number an area of the mouth. This will be administrated by a needle and feeling will be similar to scratching your hand.
Once the local anaesthetic starts to work, a part of the mouth will go ‘numb’. Even though this can cause anxiety for some people, it’s completely normal and will ‘wear off’ within a few hours.
Here are some things to remember to help you to cure your fear of dental anaesthetics:
• To administrate any form of anaesthetic, the dentist needs to do additional training. This means they have been trained to a high standard. Equally they will also undergo training regularly so they’re up-to-date with all medical requirements.
• Many people worry they will have an ‘allergic’ reaction to an injection. Generally this only happens as a side effect AFTER the treatment has been completed. Obviously reactions are possible, but they’re relativity uncommon. Some people may experience vomiting, nausea, sore muscles and so on. If you have a fear of an allergic reaction or suffer from allergies, speak to the dentist before the treatment starts. They can then tell you what type of drug is used.
• If you suffer badly from anxiety it’s a good idea to ask for a ‘non-adrenaline’ injection. This will still numb the part of the mouth, which the dentist is working on, however it shouldn’t kick-start your ‘fight or flight’ response.
Remember that dentist use local anesthetics, this means you won’t be ‘put out’. You will remain conscious throughout the treatment as it just feels to numb the pain.
Other forms of dentistry can include sedation, which is administrated by an anaesthetist on the back of your hand. This means you’re not ‘put to sleep’ but you will be in a relaxed state while the treatment takes place. Usually you may not remember all of the treatment when you wake up. This is a completely normal dental procedure and is regularly carried out at specialist dental practices throughout the country.
How to Cure the Fear of the Dental Drill
Most people who visit the dentist dislike the sound of the drill, however believe it or not, some people find it soothing! Most people who dislike the drill tend to have a past experience, which has caused pain or discomfort.
Generally speaking if you’ve had an injection into your gum and the dentist starts to use the drill, you should feel no pain. This means the only thing left is the sound of the device itself.
In an ideal world, dentist drills would have no sound at all, unfortunately there needs be a small engine inside to power the device and make it work.
Some of the tips below should help you to cure your fear of the dentists drill:
• The most popular thing people do is bring along a music player to their appointment. This can be a standalone mp3 device or more commonly a mobile phone. Simply plug the headphones in and listen away. It’s usually recommended to choose songs, which are ‘past faced’, this tend to be louder. You should choose songs such as these because they usually don’t have quiet parts where the sound of the drill may be heard.
• The choice of headphones are quite important, some models feature outside ‘noise reduction’ as standard. Features such as this are generally used on ‘over the ear’ headphones, by companies such as Beats by Dre, Boss, Sony and so on. Typically ‘bud’ headphones, the one’s that stick into a person’s ears are not usually very good at drowning out noises from nearby.
• If you don’t plan to use headphones, then you could always practice listening to the dentists drill. This means using a website like YouTube to ‘expose’ yourself to the noise. The idea is, the longer you listen to it, the less likely the brain associates it as a danger.
This means your body gets use to it and doesn’t ‘panic’ when you hear it at the dentists. Think about a bird outside of your window, you hear that noise everyday, thus your body thinks nothing of it. Similar to people’s fear of thunder, it’s simply the fact their brain isn’t ‘use’ to the sound, so they panic.
How to Decrease the Loss of Control
Many people hate the feeling of losing control, this doesn’t only apply to the dental surgery, it can apply to over situations too. The feeling of losing control is a classic anxiety symptom that is typically the result of stress. Traditionally the only way to keep this type of response under control is to calm yourself down and reduce your stress levels. While this is easy said than done, when the body ‘calm’s down the feeling should subside.
Just like other forms of anxiety and dental fears, there’s no magical cure to make feelings such as this go away instantaneously. This requires work and patience before you feel like you’ve conquer the symptom.
For most people simple anxiety breathing exercises can be a great way to combat the feeling of losing control. Before your next dental appointment you should regularly practice breathing techniques so your body is use to their effectiveness.
When your in the dentists reception use these techniques to help to control your anxiety. For that extra piece of support, it can be a great idea to bring a friend or family member along to your appointment. They can wait outside while you go in to see the dentist.
Many people do this for their own ‘peace of mind’. This technique tells your brain that should something happen and you do ‘lose control’ there’s somebody there who you know, who can help you. In the majority of cases the person never actually loses control, however it can be a good backup plan should your anxiety to the dentists be high.
Always remember that dental phobia and dental anxiety is common throughout the United Kingdom. Even though you may not feel like it, you’re not the only person going through it.
A part from the general advice on this page you may find a visit to your doctor’s a good idea. This can open other avenues, which may aid your recovery from your phobia. This can include CBT therapies, anxiety medicine and so on. As each person has a unique set of circumstances it will be up to your GP to make an evaluation of your needs and see which path is best for you.
Remember with the correct course of treatment and a positive mindset, dental phobia and dental anxiety can be overcome.