Spiders. Germs. Heights. What do they all have in common? They are some of the most common phobias in the world. Those with arachnophobia panic at the sight of a spider. Someone with mysophobia continually washes his or her hands due to a fear of germs. Don’t expect someone with acrophobia - the fear of heights - to climb a ladder to change your light bulb.
Dentophobia Is No Joke
But there’s another common phobia, and while you may have experienced it, you may not know its name. Dentophobia is a fear of the dentist. For many adults, this phobia can keep them from getting the medical help they need. A trip to the dentist can be intimidating. After all, there are whirring drills, lights, and sometimes, gum-numbing injections. For five percent of the population, this fear is so severe that their dental health suffers. In fact, according to Women’s Health Magazine, roughly 25 percent of those surveyed would prefer to never have a dental exam. This can lead to untreated tooth decay, which can, in turn, create a need for more intensive dental work. Before we review some tips to help you relax at the dentist, let’s look at the nature of a phobia. While it is perfectly natural to be leery of certain things (snakes, heights, spiders), those with phobias have such an extensive fear of these objects that it interferes with their daily life. Often, this phobia invokes a “fight or flight” response, which, in turn, can cause a panic attack. Frequent panic attacks may intensify the fear. Phobias can be caused by a traumatic event, unpleasant memories, or a previous upsetting experience. The good news is that relaxation techniques can help patients with dentophobia during a dental exam.
4 Tips To Help You Overcome Your Fear of the Dentist
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden studied dentophobia and found that there are several strategies patients can use to overcome their fear of the dentist:
- Imagination – Try distracting yourself by daydreaming or playing mental games. Essentially, anything that will help you think of something else can help you relax.
- Encouragement – Tell yourself that you are strong and be optimistic about the dental treatment.
- Communication – If you are afraid of the dentist, let your dentist know! Many dental practices offer sedation or other techniques for helping you relax. For example, if you are bothered by the noise of the drill, then use earplugs. If you're a mouth-breather and have trouble breathing with instruments in your mouth, you may wish to consider Breathe Rite strips or something similar.
- Education – Sometimes, fear of the unknown can contribute to a fear of the dentist. Speak with your dentist about what to expect and what is going to be done on your visit.
Be aware that the longer you put off going to the dentist, the more involved your appointment may become. Untreated tooth decay can lead to other problems that may warrant a root canal or tooth removal. Most important, let your dentist know about your fears. You are not alone, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed to discuss this phobia with your health care team. In many cases, they may be able to help you overcome or cope with this fear so you can get the dental treatment you need.
Sources: Chan, Amanda. “Dental Phobia: 7 Common Fears and How to Conquer Them.” Women’s Health. “The Top 10 Most Common Phobias, Ranked.” Cherry, Kendra “What is a Phobia?”