What is the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of a dentist? Does it send shrills down your spine as you start imagining long needles and sharp probes and high-speed drills all in your mouth at once, cutting into your teeth while tied down to the dental chair? Or is it like a leisurely stroll to the park that you take every once in awhile and you absolutely look forward to each visit? If it’s the latter, congratulations, you’re a rare species! But if it’s the former, and you can clearly remember how you so often had to cling onto the staircase railings so as not be dragged to the dentist’s when you were young, then you most probably have the dental phobia/dentophobia, or fear of dentists. Some people suffer from such a condition to a greater degree than others. It can be any one of the following:
1. Dental fear
This is a reaction to a known danger, for example, a previous bad experience at a dentist’s or hearing it from someone else. These people go to a dentist with the thinking that they KNOW something bad is bound to happen.
2. Dental anxiety
This is a reaction to an unknown danger. Anxiety depends mostly on the patient’s ability to imagine. Just as we sometimes imagine another face staring back at us from within the mirror, or a stranger peering at you through your window, we’re just as likely to imagine merciless needles and drills and all sorts of bloody scenes when we think of sitting in a dental chair.
3. Dental phobia
It is an irrational fear resulting in the purposeful avoidance of visits to the dentist’s.
Some common causes of dental phobia:
1. Previous personal experience
If you’ve had a traumatic past experience with a dentist, you would easily regard all dental visits to be equally horrifying, especially if that was your first visit.
2. Other people’s past experience.
Hearing from others, like your friends and parents or from the internet how unpleasant a dental visit can be, can also deter you from going to one yourself.
3. History of abuse
It is reported that people with a history of sexual or physical abuse have a higher tendency of becoming dental phobics.
You’d be surprised how humiliation can stop a person from going for a check-up, being afraid of what the dentist may find in his mouth. As a result, most people do not go to a dentist unless there is pain or other problems.
5. Dentist’s fault
Dentists play a crucial role in ensuring that all their patient gets the best possible treatment with minimum discomfort and cause for anxiety.
6. Psychological disorders
Dentophobia is also increased in people who have anxiety, depression and some mental disorders.
7. Horror films
Movies like “The Dentist” and its sequel are certainly of no help!
Identifying WHAT you are actually fearful of:
- Scared of what the dentist will think of you based on your oral hygiene.
- Fear of needles, or trypanophobia, and injections.
- Fear of pain.
- Fear of some procedures, eg. extraction; I have personally heard patients claiming that giving birth pales in comparison to the pain of extracting tooth!
- Fear of white coat.
- The smell.
- The sound of the drill and the sensitivity it causes.
- The chair.
- Feeling out of control. This may be because you’re lying.
down, or not knowing what is going on, or afraid that you are unable to stop the dentist if you feel pain or are in distress.
- Fear of knowing what is actually going on. Some patients would rather not know and just be glad when everything’s over.
- Afraid of not being able to keep the mouth open for a long period of time.
- Afraid of blood.
WHY can’t I just take care of my teeth and never visit a dentist?
One way or the other you will eventually need the help of a dentist, especially when you grow older. It gets harder to cope with something that you have never been able to cope with while you were young, the more you advance in years. Take into consideration also that no matter how well you think you are taking care of your teeth, there will be some areas that you may miss out on. Also, frequent dental visits allow dentists to screen for any abnormalities early and managing it before it progresses to become worse. This can be from as minor a thing as early caries, to lesions that could suggest oral cancer.
Some methods that you can adopt to help overcome your fear will be discussed in Fear of Dentists (No more!) -Part 2.