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Anxiety, fear or dentophobia? A walk-through the fear of dentists and tips on how to handle it

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Everyone must have had in his life a moment when he was simply too afraid to go to the dentist. Well, you are not alone in this. Even if you are talking about a simple anxiety, fear or dentophobia, this fear of dentists affects up to 15% of the population and it has multiple causes, both from within and from the outside. 

While in the moment, it might look like an almost innocent fear, doing it too often might lead to complications both to your health and even to the condition itself. 

Anxiety, fear or dentophobia?

A comparison of these three so-alike terms

Dentophobia is a general fear of dentists & dentistry and because of this state, people tend to avoid dental care altogether. While anxiety is a simple feeling of backing off or having mixed feelings about future visits to the dentist, fear becomes a more aggressive version of anxiety, only this time, its cause is a past bad experience, real or imagined. 

Phobia tends to amplify the fear, making it beyond control, triggering reactions in behaviour and feelings that are exaggerated. That is why, people who have a phobia tend to isolate themselves, rejecting both reasoning and the situation itself – the visit to the dentist. 

Causes and complications

So, what triggers this fear, anxiety or dentophobia? I have to remind you that dentophobia is the medical term that gathers all the other dental fear. Therefore, the following fear might have an impact on how a person acts when it comes to dental visits and treatments: 

Fear of pain: the most common fear in general when it comes to doctors. In our case, a fear of pain can be obtained from past visits or bad experience on the dental chair. Our doctors understand this fear, so they are making sure there is little discomfort for the patients.

Fear of needles: also known as trypanophobia. As it might be scary to see something injected in you, our doctors use atraumatic needles in case it is needed. This type of needle is so thin that there is almost no pain. Also, there are modern ways to avoid the use of needles, like sedation, that will also help you relax.

Fear of drills: while the technology evolved enough to minimize the use of drilling, the dental drill is still a common tool. The problem is not the instrument itself, but the sound it makes.

The pharyngeal reflex

Fear of gagging: gag reflex, also known as pharyngeal reflex is a contraction of the throat triggered by an object that touches the roof of the mouth or the back of the tongue or the tonsils and the area around them, or even the back of the throat. It helps by trusting the substances that the brain considers harmful back to the opening of the mouth. 

But some people have hypersensitive gag reflex, which is activated more often. 

This can be a real problem for both the patient and the doctor, which is why some people tend to come to the dentist when is absolutely necessary.

Some people are simply afraid of bad news or even to being physically close to someone they don’t know. Among the common complications that a person can have when it comes to not going to the dentist at all or to postpone as much as possible (gum disease, tooth decay, dental malpositions).

There is a serious complication called white – coat syndrome, which is a temporary hypertension that a patient feels on the dentist’s chair or in hospitals or general medicine clinics. We call this serious because leaving it untreated, might lead to permanent heart disease. 

Tips on how to handle your fear of dentists

In the case that you have a strong dentophobia, you can try to demolish it by opting for the following professional methods:

Hypnosis or hypnotherapy: this type of treatment has become very popular because of the fact that it has a 95 % success rate in treating any kind of anxiety, fear or phobia. It consists in a procedure that utilizes your awareness of the hypnotic state to help you in understanding your phobia more deeply. 

You will remain in control, of course, the only thing is that you will no longer pay attention to your surroundings. You will also be guided by the hypnotherapist so that you will be in a state of peacefulness and relaxation.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: this type of treatment is concentrating on the negative automatic thoughts that you had as soon you encountered a feared situation. This lead to a phobic behavioral reaction. 

CBT’s (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) main purpose is to gradually change the way you think by managing your fears through the interconnectedness of beliefs, thoughts, behaviors and feelings.

Medications:  you can always opt for this way if you are not that confident in therapy. The dentist can prescribe a series of medications that suits your needs, like beta-blockers to block the effects of adrenaline, sedatives so that you can relax and reduce your anxiety and even antidepressants (SSRIs) so that your serotonin in your brain can be kept under control.

Tips on how to handle your fear of dentists

You might find yourself in a situation where you are afraid of the dentist and people around you are telling you to simply not think about it or get over it and just go and do it. While it might sound easy to them, this is very hard for you. 

The good news is that we and our doctors understand this. You can talk to them about your fears and anxiety. They are well aware of your fears and they will try their best for you to feel relaxed and to have a pleasant, painless procedure. 

Also, you can control the entire treatment period by asking for an on-time appointment, where you will not have to wait in the hallway or to ask for explicit indications of what the doctor is doing to you. 

Another thing you can do is have a relative or a friend join you to the dentist. This way, you will have a familiar face with you. You can also bring some of your favourite things like a book or even an item that you could play with. Bringing your own music or asking the doctor to play a specific playlist might calm you and give you the state of mind that is best suited.

Last, but not at least, have a healthy lifestyle. “Mens sana in corpore sano”, which means healthy mind in healthy body, might be also a key to overcoming your anxiety. Also, try to read about it. Understanding what you feel and what you think might be a key to curing your phobia. 

Here is a list with books we thought are best suited for your fear of dentists:

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