Dental anxiety, or being scared or anxious of the dentist is very common. Teeth are familiar to us all. We often hear awful stories or jokes about going to the dentist or having dental treatment. If you have experienced toothache, then you may know how horrible it can be and how it invades your life: those horror stories become personal to you.
When the dentist looks inside your mouth: you can’t see what they are doing and more to the point, you don’t have control. They may be asking you to trust them when they say you need treatment that you are not aware of. As if that is not enough, there are funny smells, tastes and sounds! This can make any dental anxiety, fear of the dentist or dental phobia difficult to deal with. Sometimes, people are scared or anxious about the dentist for reasons that, at first look, may seem unconnected. One example of this is if they have suffered abuse in the past.
I believe that many causes of being scared of the dentist can be dealt with by professional counselling. I am a former dentist with personal experience of severe dental fear. I am in a strong position to help you: I understand anxiety, fear and what goes on in the dental surgery. (To clarify, I do not diagnose or advise on dental conditions, this is the dentist’s role). I have the skills of a counsellor to help you understand your fear or phobia of the dentist and explore how to overcome it.
Dental Anxiety and Dental Phobia
Did you know that people who are scared of the dentist or have dental phobia often have other anxieties or difficulties? It is not uncommon that they have low self-esteem and low self-confidence. Dental anxiety can have a knock on effect in other areas of life, for example, anxiety about going to the doctors or lowered confidence in social interactions. Sufferers often carry guilt and shame because of how they feel or that they may pass on their feelings to their children.
What are Dental Anxiety and Dental Phobia?
Dental anxiety is being anxious, fearful or scared of the dentist or things related to dentistry. If dental anxiety reaches a level where it has become irrational, it is called dental phobia.
Overcoming dental anxiety can lead to improved oral health and general health as well as an improved quality of life.
How common is dental anxiety?
Of all the adults who have ever been to the dentist, nearly 1 in 2 have moderate to severe dental anxiety.
What age are people who are dentally anxious?
Dental anxiety can affect any age group: children, adolescents, adults and the elderly.
The 2009 Adult Dental Health Survey found that dental anxiety generally decreased in older adults but was higher again in people over 85 years.
Do men and women get equally anxious?
Research has found that women report greater dental anxiety than men.
What is the difference between dental phobia and dental anxiety?
It is normal to have a certain amount of anxiety and fear in life. It protects us from getting into dangerous situations. For example, feeling anxious at the edge of a cliff stops you getting too close, protecting you from falling off onto the rocks below. However, if the fear of heights stops you from shopping on the second floor of a department store, the fear is no longer useful. The anxiety has become a phobia.
People with dental anxiety may have any or all of these symptoms:
butterflies in their tummy
increased breathing rate
pins and needles
People with severe dental phobia will have symptoms like the ones listed but may avoid going to the dentist at all costs. They may even change their route so they don’t have to walk by a dental surgery.
So, how do people cope with dental anxiety and dental phobia?
People come up with many strategies to deal with being scared of the dentist. Some of these are helpful, some are not.
Some unhelpful strategies include:
Putting off going to the dentist (even if they are in severe pain)
Avoiding going to the dentist altogether
Trying to do some DIY dentistry
Using alcohol or mind-altering substances to get through the experience.
Some helpful strategies include:
Taking a supportive family member or friend
Using relaxation techniques
Emotion Freedom Techniques (EFT)