Dentophobia, as the self explanatory word explains, is the fear of dentists or the fear of dental work. It is a fairly common phobia affecting children as well as adults. Nearly 75% of the adult global population is known to fear dentists.
The phobia is linked to other phobias like the fear of needles (Tryphanophobia) fear of doctors (Iatrophobia) and others (such as fear of hospitals, pain etc). Some cases of Dentophobia are so extreme that they are known to lead to some very negative consequences.
Causes of the fear of dentists
As with other specific phobias, the fear of dentists results from direct or indirect negative experiences. Dental work often involves painful Root Canal treatments, cavity filling, extractions etc. Often they require the patient to undergo local anesthesia. People who fear needles are more prone to this phobia.
Sometimes, simply seeing an adult express his/her fear of dentists can bring a negative response to the point of inducing anxiety in a child.
The bedside/ tableside manner of the dentist could also lead to this phobia. Some patients might have found their dentist to be “uncaring, cold or rough” while treating them, leading to a permanent fear of dentists.
Cartoons, books, TV shows and movies often portray dentists in negative light. Some horror movies related to Dentists could also trigger the phobia in anxious or highly strung individuals.
General stimulus is often the cause of Dentophobia. A dental office setting involves white coats, antiseptic smells, sounds of drilling, and bright overhead lights. Even if a person has experienced similar settings in a hospital or those having general fear of white coats/doctors can develop symptoms of Dentophobia.
Some cases of fear of dentists might even occur when there is no apparent relation to the external stimulus- a person who has been abused either physically, mentally or sexually can also develop this phobia.
Patients undergoing dental procedures often feel helpless or utterly out of control. Such perceived lack of control, lying under the bright lights with one’s mouth wide open, or possible with a drill and a suction tube in it, while the dentist performs an extraction or root canal can naturally lead to the fear. Sometimes, the patient might have tried to signal he is in pain but the dentist might have continued to work, causing one’s Dentophobia.
Symptoms of Dentophobia
Dentophobia leads to a variety of physical and mental symptoms:
- Feeling like crying, screaming, shaking, sweating, feeling nauseated.
- The phobic experiences a full blown panic attack: he wishes to flee, hide etc.
- Avoidance is the most common symptom: one might put off seeing the dentist for so long that it could lead to various complications. Gum disease, cavities, or worse, heart problems can also occur in such individuals.
- Often, the fear of dentists leads to greater expenses: worsening oral health could lead to more expensive treatments including Root canal therapy, costly bridges, implants, crowns etc. This becomes a vicious cycle as the phobic, due to this knowledge, refuses to get treated, leading to greater health problems.
- Poor teeth can impact other areas of the individual’s life: getting a job where one is expected to have clean, shiny teeth or even dating and relationships can be impacted negatively. The person often becomes socially withdrawn, depressed, isolated or turns into an Agoraphobic.
Treating and overcoming the fear of dentists phobia
In case of paralyzing Dentophobia that is affecting the phobic’s oral and mental health, it is best to seek professional treatment to overcome one’s fear.
Medicines may be prescribed to overcome extreme anxiety. Many dental clinics work with psychologists who can provide tools and resources to ease the patient’s anxiety. Practicing Gentle Dentistry where the experts work in a manner that eases the fear (either by explanation of dental procedures one is performing or playing gentle music etc) can also help patients overcome this phobia. Some dentists recommend keeping stress balls which the patient can press to ease his anxiety. Having a supportive family member or friend along for the treatment can also ease the phobia.
Hypnotherapy may be undertaken in case of extreme Dentophobia. These sessions help the phobic get to the bottom of his fear and reprogram his response to it.
Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation practiced before and during the treatment can also help one overcome the fear of dentists.