Fear of the dentist is known as “dentophobia” (sometimes “odontophobia”, but this is less commonly used), and it is very common. One in six Australian adults and one in ten Australian children suffer from it.
There are many reasons people get dentophobia. Luckily, there are also many ways to overcome it.
WHAT CAUSES DENTOPHOBIA?
Notice how the percentage of people with dentophobia goes from 10% of children to 16% of adults?
Dentophobia, like any other phobia, is most commonly caused by a past traumatic experience. As we get older, we have more dental experiences and the chances of a negative experience grows.
For some patients, particularly older patients, these traumatic dental encounters were often the result of lower standards of pain relief, patient care, and more primitive dental techniques.
For others, even a perfectly routine trip to the dentist can trigger a deeply negative response that stays with them for life. The feeling of a drill in their mouth, having a tooth extracted, or a root canal can all affect patients differently.
It’s also common for dentophobia to arise as a result of other, related phobias. Trypanophobia, for example, is the fear of needles. When patients with trypanophobia associate visiting the dentist with getting a needle injection, their trypanophobia can grow into dentophobia.
Other related phobias may include:
- Iatrophobia (fear of doctors)
- Nosocomephobia (fear of hospitals)
Another possibility is that a patient develops dentophobia because of someone else’s traumatic experience. For example:
Patient A had a tooth extracted that was difficult and painful. Patient B has never had a tooth extracted. Patient A tells them all about how nasty and awful a tooth extraction is, and Patient B, with no personal experience, starts to dread tooth extractions.
This can be the case with parents and their children. The parents recount their negative dental experiences to their child, establishing a sense of unease about visiting the dentist.
Problems Caused by Dentophobia
The biggest issue caused by dentophobia is patients avoid routine dental care. They only visit the dentist when they experience pain or a severe problem that they simply can’t ignore any more.
Dental complications are one of the leading causes of preventable hospitalisations in Australia. Specifically, concerns such as:
• Dental caries (cavities)
• Periodontal disease
• Cysts and decay of supporting structures
Are all things which can largely be avoided by regular dental appointments. Letting these go undetected for too long results in them turning into severe oral complications that are costly, time-consuming, and often deeply uncomfortable to treat.
Certain conditions, such as gingivitis, can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and complications during pregnancy. Your oral health is more important to your body than you may realise.
How to Treat Dentophobia
Exposure therapy is the best way to overcome dentophobia. Attending your regular check and cleans with a dentist you trust and who takes the time to put you at ease.
The first step is to let your dentist know you have dentophobia.
Your dental team will do everything they can to ensure your comfort and relaxation during treatment. From the reception to the dental chair, you will be looked after.
Regular check and cleans may include distractions so your mind isn’t on what’s happening in your mouth. TV screens and music are common ways to take people’s minds off their appointments. This helps many people not overthink what’s happening and fully relax.
Particularly anxious patients will be offered conscious sedation for treatments such as crowns, fillings, veneers, or extractions. This can be delivered in several ways — oral sedative, laughing gas, or IV.
The most important thing for truly overcoming your dentophobia, however, is to find a dentist with a kind and calming manner. A compassionate dentist who understands your concerns and whom you trust to take care of you will do more to relieve your phobia than any tool or technique available.