There is probably hardly anyone who really looks forward to a visit to the dentist – but some people develop a real phobia of it & may need help. Here’s how to help with the anxiety.
We humans have always been afraid of unpleasant things – going to the dentist is no exception
- Especially when it comes to perceived pain being inflicted upon us, we try to use avoidance mechanisms and escape it.
- Dental visits are definitely in the top ranks of unpleasant & undesirable things (that you have to do for healthy teeth anyway).
Here you can read about the forms that phobia can take and how you can target and improve dental anxiety with some tips.
Note: This guide on the Internet does not replace a visit to a doctor. Please use this article for information only and not for self-treatment. Further below you will find additional links to various professional help centers.
Fear of the dentist
Anxiety is all too human. Some people are afraid of tall buildings, others of speeding cars – and still others just of professionals.
This is due to the general fear of being examined (and the uncertainty about what will come out of the examination or what the consequences of the visit will be).
Many sufferers would rather suffer through pain than go to the doctor.
At the dentist, this is usually a treatment that can cause severe toothache in the worst case. Fear is first something completely natural and human.
Frequent trigger: bad experiences with the dentist
Many people who have a fear of the dentist can tell you about a bad experience.
Especially if you had a painful treatment as a child with a dentist, (who was not sensitive enough to you & your fears).
Then that fear can develop into a phobia.
Statistics & study on fear of the dentist
In the U.S., between five and eight percent avoid the dentist completely, and around 20 percent are more reluctant to go for dental treatment.
- It is generally assumed that it is around 10 percent of the population who do not go to the dentist in Germany because they are afraid of it.
- The relationship between a specific phobia and simple fear was examined in more detail in a study by the University of Bergen:
According to this 2002 study, 47 percent of those examined were found to have odontophobia and 33 percent were found to have simple anxiety.
The odontophobia (dental fear)
It is believed (there are still not enough studies about it) that five to ten percent of the population has odontophobia.
- Many of us can live with the fear of the dentist relatively well and get up every time to attend the appointment.
- For people with a full-blown phobia, it’s a different story. They have such a fear of it that they do everything imaginable to avoid the dentist.
Not infrequently, they break out in sheer panic at the very thought of a visit. This is not without consequences:
Many sufferers have had bad experiences with going to the dentist – and will do anything to avoid having to experience something like that again.
Risks of a dental phobia
For example, those who suffer from odontophobia are more likely to risk gum infections such as periodontal disease and may have poorer health in general.
Of course, many sufferers also suffer from accompanying symptoms of poor oral hygiene such as yellow teeth, bad breath, or rotten teeth from tooth decay.
Odontophobia can even be life-threatening in the worst case.
Some studies have discovered a link between inadequate oral hygiene and life-threatening diseases, such as heart disease and pneumonia.
Not all sufferers have the same symptoms
There are different forms and manifestations of this phobia.
- In the very most extreme case, there are individuals who never see a dentist for their entire life.
- On the other hand, there are people who can not sleep the night before the dentist appointment.
This is still uncomfortable, but they still go to the doctor (albeit with a stomachache). It’s not uncommon for people to suddenly feel sick or even get really sick while sitting in the waiting room.
Reasons for Fear of the Dentist
Where exactly do these fears and phobias come from?
Here is a short list of possible reasons. It can help you determine if they have merely developed a fear of drills or if they have developed a (mild) phobia.
The most common causes
Fear of the dentist or going to the dentist and odontophobia can have very different causes. Researchers have been able to filter out some basic motivations in interviews:
In a survey of people who had not visited a dentist for more than 12 months, 6% reported avoiding him primarily because of fear of pain.
This fear is most common among adults over the age of 24. This may be related to the fact that their early dental visits were at a time when pain-free dental treatments were still a rarity.
Painful treatments at the dentist can – understandably – lead to an aversion to further treatment.
Feeling of helplessness and loss of control
Many people develop phobias in situations where they have no control (such as flying)
- When they are then suddenly in the dentist’s chair and not allowed to move, a comparable situation of helplessness arises.
- You may well also have the feeling of not knowing what is happening (or whether it will result in pain).
This feeling is a very widespread phenomenon and can quickly lead to a state of anxiety.
Feeling of shame
Yes, the mouth is an intimate part of the body. There are people who feel ashamed or uncomfortable when a stranger looks into their mouths.
This problem can grow if they are aware of the particularly desolate state of their teeth.
In addition, dental treatment usually means that the dentist is close to the patient. During treatment, the face is usually only a few centimeters away from him. This can lead to a state of stress in patients.
Bad experiences due to past treatments
Whoever has endured pain or other unpleasant situations in previous treatments will not look forward to the next treatment.
Bad experiences are one of the main triggers when it comes to dental anxiety
Individual components of the treatment process
Even individual steps or parts of the dentist’s treatment can trigger negative memories and even phobias. An example is the fear of injections during anesthesia or of the drill.
Evolutionary biological reasons
Humans are biologically programmed to protect their airways from interventions. Those among our ancestors who were able to adequately protect their airways were more likely to survive.
The mouth is a vulnerable part of the body (and especially important because it is through it that we breathe and eat). So fear may also be one of the body’s most important survival mechanisms.
Recognizing the symptoms of dental anxiety
There is no clear line between fear and a phobia, or anxiety. Most of the time, one transitions smoothly into the other.
Here are some symptoms that can help you figure out if you might be suffering from dental phobia.
If so, you should seek help to talk about your fear.
- You are tense or can’t sleep the night before going to the dentist.
- Your nervousness increases with each minute you sit in the waiting room.
- You feel like you’re going to cry when you think about your next visit to the dentist.
- The thought of going to the dentist makes you physically ill.
- When you see dental instruments such as dental drills or the white coats of employees in a dental office, you immediately become nervous and you feel bad.
- Panic occurs or you can’t breathe properly when certain appliances are placed in your mouth (e.g., during dental treatment).
If you recognize yourself in some of these statements, be sure to talk to your dentist or family doctor about them.
She or he can help you overcome your fears. You may also be well referred to a counseling center or other specialists.
What can dentists do about this?
There are dentists who do not care about the problem. But this is the wrong way and you should look for another specialist in this case.
Many doctors create an unnecessarily stressful environment for the patient, assuming that patients all have similar pain and will respond the same way to treatment.
This is not always true, of course, and patients with phobias in particular need a different kind of treatment method.
There are specialized dentists who focus on creating an ambiance that is different from that of a regular dental office.
Here is a list of possible practices that a dentist can offer for anxiety patients:
The dentist invites the patient for a consultation before the actual treatment.
The patient can sit in the dental chair without fear of uncomfortable treatment, he or she can meet the dental assistants, and (if desired) painless processes can be performed:
For example, dental impressions, cancer screening check, photos of the dentition before surgery, etc. In this way, a trusting relationship with the patient can be established:
Control by the patient
A signal can be arranged with the patient. For example, raising the hand can be an indication of pain. In this way, the patient feels he or she has better control of the situation (and can better communicate his or her emotional state)
Music during treatment, in particular, helps the patient think about something else. It may be possible to listen to soothing music through headphones to block out the surrounding sounds of the dentist.
Innovation of treatment techniques
New instruments & better anesthesia allow for treatment that is almost painless. There are also modern drills that produce less to hardly any noise, which can reduce one of the many components that create anxiety
Treatment under general anesthesia
Some doctors also offer full sedation for anxiety patients. However, this method also has risks, which your doctor will be happy to explain to you in advance if you seek discussion.
How do you know if your dentist is taking you seriously?
A pain-sensitive dentist pays attention to the following points:
- Gently explaining what the patient will feel (and for how long).
- They continually ask if they can continue with the treatment.
- The patient can stop treatment at any time if he or she feels it is unpleasant.
- Pauses are taken if desired.
What can you do about it yourself?
Now you know what your dentist can do for you. But you can also prepare yourself for a more pleasant visit to the dentist.
Here are a few tips:
Take a confidant with you
Take someone with you to the dentist whom you trust and who is supportive. It may help if this person sits in the treatment room with you. Just ask your treating dentist.
Prevent with proper dental care
Take care of your teeth to prevent the need for treatments in the first place!
- Brush your teeth after every meal (an electric toothbrush helps with proper technique and makes brushing more comfortable)
- Attention to the rest of your oral hygiene (keyword flossing). Diet and avoiding sugar are also important.
At first glance, this is all obvious, but again, prevention is the best way & way to reduce fear of the dentist.
With healthy teeth, you don’t have much to worry about at your six-monthly checkups. Here’s even more advice on proper dental care.
Distraction & Relaxation
ask if you can listen to music or your dentist might have a TV that can distract you.
Try relaxation methods, such as certain breathing techniques: take a deep breath, hold it, and exhale slowly. This will slow your heartbeat and relax your muscles.
Understand anxiety better
Try to find out where your anxiety is coming from. If you know the cause, then it will be easier to do something about it. If you can’t do it on your own, then find someone who can help you in this search.
There are also books dedicated to the subject, for example, „Relaxed to the dentist. So you overcome your fear„, which you can find here on Amazon *.
Downers during treatment
Discuss with your dentist what sedatives may be helpful during treatment,
Options include local anesthetic, nitrous oxide, oral sedatives, and intravenous sedation, but beware: not all dentists are trained to administer sedatives.
Talk with other doctors & professionals
If you find it impossible to go to the dentist, see a psychologist or get information from a mental health counselor.
Often it can also help to share your fears with another person and only then seek professional help.
Give yourself time, but work at it. Even if you’re slow to make progress, it’sbetter than doing nothing at all and letting your teeth go untreated.
Tips for dealing with dental phobias in children:
- Help your children deal with dental visits in a positive way early on and take their fears seriously
- Take your child to the dentist early. Preferably when it gets the first teeth.
- Just play dentist and patient with your child once to show him that it is something normal.
- Give your child a small prize for a successful visit to the dentist. This will allow you to give the child positive experiences.
- Don’t project your fears onto your child.
- Start as early as possible with caries prevention (eg with a suitable children’s toothbrush).
Professional help with dental anxiety – your options
Odontophobia is a recognized mental illness (ICD-10 GM 2006 F40.2) and is accordingly covered by health insurance as psychological treatment.
However, this is only possible with a contract physician or recognized psychologist.
- Here is a link that gives you guidance (http://www.kosten-beim-zahnarzt.de/kostenuebernahme-krankenkasse-bei-angstpatienten.html)
- You can also call counseling centers and ask for help: http://www.angst-beratung.de/Hilfestellen.htm.
- Find a dentist who specializes in treating anxiety patients or patients with phobias.
The possibility of hypnosis should also be considered in the case of a serious phobia. It represents in many cases a good and efficient way to avoid the fear and especially the anxiety associated with visiting the dentist.
You can do a lot yourself against tooth decay & unpleasant treatments at the dentist through thorough and careful oral hygiene.
I hope this article has been helpful to you. If you want to learn more about proper prevention of painful dental diseases (or just want to get bright white teeth ), feel free to browse this page a little more:
- , toothbrushes from Oral-B, sonic toothbrushes & ultrasonic toothbrushes usually clean better than brushing by hand and can compensate for faulty technique.
- The use of dental floss or interdental brushes removes stinky bacteria between the teeth. An even more convenient alternative is oral irrigators.
- Supplement your dental care with the right toothpaste, antibacterial mouthwashes, tongue cleaners & home remedies such as coconut oil or birch sugar.
Please also recommend this page to friends & acquaintances to help as many people as possible.