While visiting the dentist for regular checkups and cleanings is important for keeping teeth healthy and addressing any problems right away, dental anxiety is a widespread issue that can get in the way of maintaining good oral hygiene. In fact, the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -IV" includes dental phobia. Continue reading to learn the answers to some frequently asked questions about dealing with common dental fears and the strategies used to help.
Why do people suffer from dental anxiety?
While the level of anxiety varies from patient to patient, fearing dental visits is a very common issue experienced by both children and adults. While some individuals might be apprehensive about oral surgery or more invasive dental procedures, other people are so fearful of any dental care that appointments of all types are avoided at any cost. There are a wide variety of reasons that patients often deal with anxiety.
What causes dental anxiety and phobia?
An individual might be afraid of going to the dentist for a number of reasons. The most common causes are a fear of pain, which can result from a bad or painful dental experience in the past, or preconceived notions about the dentist's office. Children may develop a dental phobia from observing a caregiver who is apprehensive about visiting the dentist. Patients might fear a specific aspect of the visit, such as drilling or gagging. Dental phobia is also prevalent among adults and children with a history of abuse.
What are the signs of dental phobia?
There are several signs that can indicate a patient has a serious dental phobia that needs to be addressed. One such sign is extreme avoidance of dental visits. Some patients will only see the dentist after developing a major issue or experiencing severe pain. Others will have difficulty sleeping the night before an appointment or feel physically sick just at the thought of visiting the dentist. Another common sign of dental phobia is a struggle to breathe prior to or during the appointment.
How can people overcome dental anxiety?
For more minor cases of dental anxiety, patients might find some of their apprehension relieved by openly communicating feelings of fear with the dental staff and maintaining some control over the appointment. Patients can find comfort in developing a signal, such as raising a hand, when a break is needed. Practicing relaxation techniques and focusing on something else in the office, such as a television or image on the wall, can help as well. Persons dealing with a severe dental phobia can seek assistance from a therapist who might use methods like desensitization or even hypnosis to help the patient overcome anxiety.
Dealing with dental anxiety can make going to regularly scheduled cleanings and having necessary oral procedures performed extremely stressful for patients. This can affect a person’s oral health and lead to gum disease and other common dental issues. It is important that patients find strategies to help reduce anxiety and make visits more comfortable.
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