Dental Anxiety & Dental Phobia Guide | Coping with Fear of the Dentist
Dental Anxiety &
Dental Phobia Guide
You’re not alone.
It affects 1 in 6 Australians.
What is Dental Anxiety & Dental Phobia?
Dental anxiety is a common condition that impacts 1 in 6 Australians and can affect people of all ages, lifestyles and backgrounds.
It is common to feel worried about an important appointment with the dentist, but it is not normal for this to impact your quality of life, decisions about your health or your ability to receive treatment. For those suffering extreme dental anxiety, also known as dental phobia, your fear might even make it too hard to make it to a normal dental check-up!
Unfortunately, these feelings of dental anxiety can become ingrained over time and some sufferers feel ‘trapped’. This can lead to neglect for your smile, and the guilt that follows can contribute to your anxiety even further – and we cover this specifically in our article ‘Breaking the Cycle‘.
However, not all dental anxiety & dental phobia is the same. There’s a spectrum – from mild anxiety to severe phobia – and the techniques to manage these different degrees of fear are varied. So, where should you start on your journey to overcoming dental anxiety?
What are the causes of Dental Anxiety?
There are many reasons that people feel uneasy about a dental appointment. Dental anxiety often stems from negative past-experiences with dental treatment, and these feelings can stay with people for many years.
“As a patient-focused dental practice, it is our goal to ensure that you never feel rushed while we discuss your dental problems. Our goal is to make you as comfortable as possible while being mindful of your underlying anxiety and your concerns regarding dental treatment,” says Dr Ian Davies.
Anxiety may even stem from childhood memories or a seemingly unrelated experience such as a traumatic event, and some common causes of dental anxiety include –
- Anxiety triggers, such as the smell & sound of a medical practice
- Existing anxiety issues, such as claustrophobia or panic disorder
- Previous negative dental or healthcare experiences
- Fear of restraint, pain or invasive health treatment
- Underlying psychological reasons
- Being forced into treatment at a young age
- Feeling of a loss of control during dental treatment
Signs & Symptoms of Dental Phobia
Modern dentistry provides many treatment options that are less invasive, have a longer lifespan and require less time in the dental chair. You have more choices when it comes to your dental treatment, and often the ways we provide dentistry in a modern practice setting is very different from the experiences older patients had as a child.
The signs & symptoms of dental anxiety & dental phobia exist on a spectrum, and you can read some of the differences below.
Symptoms of Mild Dental Anxiety
The symptoms of mild anxiety are often shared with moderate or extreme anxiety, but they are less overwhelming and do not typically induce a state of panic or deep distress.
Mild anxiety is often completely normal before dental treatment, especially if it requires a prolongued time in the chair, and this can be discussed with your dentist if you would like to consider ways to make your experience less stressful.
Symptoms include –
- Increased heart rate
- Using humour or aggression to conceal your concern
- Feeling uneasy about an upcoming appointment, but not severe enough to impact attendance or ability to receive treatment
- Nervous or anxious feelings that dissipate quickly or are able to be overcome with minimal or no intervention
Strategies for Managing Dental Anxiety
There are many tools available for helping you with your dental anxiety, and your dentist can discuss which of these is applicable and aligns with the severity of your fear or anxiety.
A calming device is anything that you or your dentist use to take your mind off dental treatment while you are in the chair.
These are available at most dentists and are great for all levels of dental anxiety, but if you are experiencing severe anxiety of phobia you may find that you need additional strategies as well. Calming devices & techniques include –
- Music & noise cancelling devices
- Relaxation techniques – like breathing & guided imagery
- Aromatherapy & massage
- Videos, movies & calming pictures
- Numbing gel
- The wand
Dental anxiety can often stem from a feeling of loss of control, or a previous bad dental experience, that has made you fear the discussion of your issues with your dentist or abstain from dental treatment.
Monitoring tools are wide and varied, which gives you lots of options when it comes to finding ways to communicate effectively and overcome a feeling of loss of control during dental treatment.
Signalling During Treatment
Your dentist will show you ways of making signals during dental treatment so that you can communicate even if speaking is difficult. For example, during the placement of a filling, you may be shown how to signal that everything is ok, or that you would like to stop to ask a question.
Your dentist may also use the Tell-Show-Do technique, during which we will explain the next step in treatment, demonstrate the technique involved, and perform the procedure once you are comfortable.
A blunting technique seeks to help you dull or block out your dental fears completely, and this approach typically uses sedation & medication to help promote a calm state of mind. Techniques include –
- Oral Sedation
- General Anaesthesia
This approach provides specific tools that allow people with dental anxiety to access dental treatment, but it also has its downsides.
During sedation, you will be unable to communicate clearly, may not remember everything, and you won’t build the positive experiences needed to desensitize yourself from your dental fear.
Sedation is expensive, both in terms of cost and time, and many of us wish to investigate a more holistic or long-term approach that helps you understand your phobia and begin to desensitize your dental fears.
Cognitive, Self-Empowerment & Desensitizing Tools for Dental Anxiety
“The Secret to Dental Confidence” is a newly developed brain retraining technique that can help you overcome your anxiety in the long-term and help rewire your brain respond to dental treatment in a more positive way.
Just like any other muscle and exercise, the parts of our brain we use regularly can become stronger, while the parts we don’t use gradually weaken. I love helping patients overcome their fears and access important dental treatment, and we are currently trialing a dental anxiety program at BOH Dental that I have co-produced with Regina Rowlison from Use Your Powers.
The tools used in self-empowerment cinematography films, as outlined in the theory of Neuroplasticity, help retrain and reprogram the brains subconscious and automatic response. This training is accomplished by brain exercise and cognitive therapy, through the use of video programs with embedded affirmations.
Each day, participants take a few minutes to watch a special, self-empowerment video that helps to re-establish the positive role of dentistry in their lives. The negative and unwanted beliefs and perceptions about dental treatment can be overwritten with a new, healthy and positive response to dental care. Many of my existing patients have already made significant improvements using this product.