Overcoming Dentophobia, a Fear of the Dentist
It is estimated that nearly seventy five percent of adults in the United States experience some amount of fear with regards to visiting a dentist. Of that percentage, about five to ten percent of those people have a strong enough fear to be considered sufferers of a dental phobia. Those individuals experience fear so strongly that they avoid dental visits, which can be highly detrimental to their health. It is important for sufferers to understand what dental phobia is and to know that there are ways to overcome it.
Causes of Dentophobia
There are many terms used to classify the idea of a dental phobia. It can be known as dental fear, dental anxiety, dentist phobia, odontophobia, or dentophobia. They all mean the same thing: an intense fear of visiting the dentist for dental care. In most cases, people who experience dentophobia do so because of prior traumatic experiences at the dentist. Those experiences can include complications from procedures and painful procedures. The fear can also arise from a bad interaction with a dentist and the way in which the dentist’s attitude was perceived. If an individual received care from a dentist that was uncaring or cold in manner, the experience could result in an increased fear.
Negative personal experiences aren’t the only ways in which a dentophobia could arise. In some cases, the fear can be brought about by indirect experiences. One way in which someone could obtain a fear of the dentist is through hearing about someone else’s bad traumatic experience. People are also greatly impacted by what they see and hear in the mass media. Witnessing a negative portrayal of dentistry can also have a negative effect on dentophobia.
Dentophobia can also occur if the person has traumatic experiences with doctors in general. Some people can have their fear triggered just by seeing a doctor of any kind, smelling smells associated with hospitals, or have a fear of people perceived to be in a position of power.
Treatment of Dentophobia
There are several ways to treat dentophobia and they can range from behavioral techniques to medication. There are a few dental fear clinics where psychologists and dentists work together to provide sufferers with tools and skills to help them learn to manage and combat dentophobia. In the absence of a clinic, some dentists try and help patients to overcome the fear through gentle dentistry and explaining the procedures in a calming way to reduce a fear of the unknown. Positive reinforcement is another behavioral technique that may be used to overcome dentophobia. Praising the patient after a successful appointment can help to boost confidence and diminish fear.
Relaxation techniques can also be used to diminish fear. Deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, and guided imagery can help a patient to relax while in the dentist’s chair. Systematic desensitization is a technique employed by psychologists to reduce anxiety and phobias. Through this method, the patient is gradually exposed to the object of their fear until he or she is able to combat the fear without assistance.
The use of medication can vary from mild sedatives to general anesthesia. Dentists often use laughing gas to sooth a nervous patient. In some cases, a dentist can prescribe anxiety medication such as Valium or Xanax prior to a procedure. Through the use of these methods, a patient is able to receive dental care regardless of the dentophobia. It also allows for the patient to be responsive, alert, and able to communicate with the dentist.
There are also ways in which a patient can engage in self-help to combat dentophobia. Doing the proper research into finding a dentist that he/she is comfortable with will help reduce anxiety. If the patient feels a sense of trust with the chosen dentist, he/she will find it a bit easier to go to the dentist’s office. Patient’s can request to meet with the dentist prior to having work done. Bringing a comforting object to the dental appointment is another mechanism to assist with fear. Stress-balls are great for this because they can be squeezed in times of heightened fear or anxiety. Listening to comforting music in the waiting room or carrying a favorite book can also help ease the patient. Having a support system also helps lesson fear, and bringing a trusted friend or family member to the appointment is another way to reduce anxiety. Prior to the appointment, a person suffering from dentophobia should try relaxation techniques such as meditation or thinking positively about the outcome of the appointment.
Resources for Further Reading
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