How to Help with Dental Anxiety

If someone you know refuses to step inside a dental office, you may think their attitude is based on groundless anxieties, but to them, their fears are likely to be all too real. Some people may have mild concerns about a dental visit but for others this apprehension can become a mental health condition called odontophobia (dental phobia).

Fear of visiting the dentist is a common issue. A report endorsed by the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine estimates that up to 15 per cent of Americans (about 40 million) avoid going to the dentist because they’re too frightened. Another study, by the Dental Fears Research Clinic at the University of Washington in Seattle, found that three in four adults experienced some degree of apprehension when seeing their dentist – from being “a little afraid to absolutely terrified.”

A survey by the American Dental Association (ADA) concluded that women were more likely to visit the dentist and take better care of their teeth. Whatever level of trepidation people have about visiting the dentist, there are certain measures you can take to help them overcome the problem. First, though, you need to understand what may be causing their dental anxiety.

Why Do People Avoid the Dentist?

Apprehension about visiting a dentist can result in people putting off routine dental care for years or even decades. They’ll suffer through just about anything, including gum disease and unsightly or broken teeth. One typical reason why people avoid the dentist is fear of pain, which is most common in those in their mid-20s or over, probably because they have bad memories of their early dental treatment, before advances in dentistry led to a greater degree of patient comfort.

Embarrassment is another reason for steering clear of a dental practice. Some people are uneasy about letting a stranger probe around in their mouth, an intimate area of the body, especially if they’re self-conscious about the poor appearance of their teeth. Another cause of dental anxiety is fear of loss of control – having to stay still in a dental chair and not being able to see exactly what’s going on.

Dental Anxiety and Dental Phobia

Dental anxiety and dental phobia are often taken as meaning the same thing, but there is a difference. A person with dental anxiety will feel uneasy about an upcoming dental appointment because of unfounded or exaggerated concerns. Dental phobia is more serious, with the sufferer experiencing extreme dread to the extent of becoming panic stricken. However, both conditions share one aspect: they are caused by irrational fears.

So, whether people are phobic or just apprehensive about seeing a dentist, you can help them to overcome their concerns by gently and tactfully guiding them toward the realization that their fears are, in fact, not based on logic.

Encouraging People to Resume Dental Care

Before initiating a dialogue with people about their dental apprehensions, you need to know what you’re talking about, so do a little research by taking a look around some of the online forums that address the issue and see how others deal with the problem. These platforms include Dental Fear Central and Dental Phobia.

If it’s been many years since your loved one set foot inside a dental practice, he or she probably won’t appreciate the ever-evolving advances in modern dentistry that place a strong emphasis on patient comfort and preventive dental care. Suggest they go with you on one of your own routine dental visits. Simply being in the waiting room will help them to get acclimatized to the environment and, hopefully, start to realize there’s really nothing to be afraid of. You could also ask your dentist for advice on overcoming your loved one’s fears.

Explain to your loved one in a calm and controlled way how their lack of dental care is making you worry about the effects on their long-term overall health. If left untreated, dental problems can lead to extremely serious conditions such as lung infections, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Research indicates that parents can unwittingly transfer their dental anxieties onto their children so it’s important to set a good example with regards to getting regular dental checkups and procedures at the dentist.

Discuss sedation dentistry with your loved one. With dental sedation, they would be given relaxant medication before or during dental work. Levels of sedation can be minimal, moderate or deep. If your loved one is afraid of injections (belonephobia), moderate sedation is available by simply taking a pill (oral conscious sedation).

If you suspect that your loved one has a severe case of odontophobia, he made need cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) from a professional to help them overcome his or her anxiety disorder. This therapy is based on helping people to become aware of flawed or negative thoughts so they can regard challenging situations with more clarity, enabling them to react in a more positive manner.

Be Supportive

If your loved one avoids the dentist, they have a higher risk of gum disease and tooth loss, and may well suffer from poorer health in general, even to the extent of lower life expectancy. Avoiding the dentist can also bring emotional problems. Stained or cracked teeth can make your people insecure and self-conscious. Some people can become so ashamed about how their teeth look that their personal and professional lives begin to suffer.

The good news is that today many dentists are experienced in dealing with fearful patients, and a variety of methods and treatments are available to lessen pain and alleviate concerns in the dentist's chair. At Fine Dentistry of Downtown Orlando, our experienced dentists specialize in Sedation Dentistry and Sleep Dentistry – we can treat people with dental phobias and anxieties. The good news is that at our office, complex dental treatments that often require six or more appointments can be done in as little as one appointment!

In trying to persuade your loved one how important it is to visit the dentist, avoid being confrontational. Backing them into a corner by being over manipulative is likely to do more harm than good. Instead, demonstrate that you understand their problems and concerns, and tell them that you’ll do everything within your power to help them to get back on track with their dental – and overall – health. Contact us today at Fine Dentistry of Downtown Orlando – we can help resolve dental anxieties and make optimal oral health a reality.