Dental Phobia Signs and Treatments

a young woman experiencing anxiety while having a dental procedure performed on her.

Although dreading a trip to the dentist is pretty commonly shared amongst the general public, those negative feelings are something quite different to having an outright dental phobia. Dental fear affects both adults and children and it can be extremely difficult for a parent to see their child or family member so distraught when it comes to dentist visits.

Fear Versus Phobia

Sometimes called dental anxiety, this is genuine dental fear to the point that visiting a dentist, dental hygienist or dental nurse causes severe anxiety. Sometimes hard to pinpoint, this can be fear of dental instruments, getting dental work done or even the dentist or dental hygienists themselves. Dental phobics experience all of the characteristics associated with an extreme fear of the dentist office. Classified with other mental health disorders and specific phobias by both the American Psychiatric Association and Harvard Medical School, those with this anxiety disorder experience a crippling and irrational fear and symptoms of anxiety. To assess the severity of dental fears, a mental health professional may use a dental anxiety scale or another tool found in a diagnostic and statistical manual.

Not uncommon in mental disorders, characteristics of a severe fear of a dentist’s office has been known to cause panic attacks or an extremely elevated blood pressure right in the dental chair. Some anxious patients are so traumatically impacted by stressful dental treatments that the staff at the dental office feel as though to continue with dental procedures or even a routine dental treatment would be too much. The consequences can have long-lasting effects; fear of a dental visit is hypothesized as a possible causation for cardiovascular disease. Dental anxiety can also have real and severe consequences for patients on not only their dental health, as it’s quite common for them to delay going to the dentist or decline a critical dental treatment, but it can impact general health as well.

With oral health being a component of good overall health, how then do we alleviate dental anxiety well enough for someone to tolerate a dental appointment or a necessary dental procedure? It begins with going to the right dental clinic. At Orchard Park Dental in Stoney Creek (https://www.orchardparkdental.com), we are mindful when dealing with fearful clients that come to our dental office. As professionals, we help to gently manage patients’ fears of a dental setting to ensure they get the physical and mental dental care they need.

Relaxation Techniques as a Psychological Treatment

While psychological treatment might bring visions of padded rooms, that’s not the case at all. It merely provides coping skills such as a relaxation technique. Muscle relaxation has proven to be very successful in getting some clients into the dentist’s chair. Relaxation breathing, another recommended therapy, is deep breathing to alleviate anxiety associated with dental appointments. Other methods such as pressure point therapy while in a dental environment have been found to be very successful. In literature review, some readers suggest coping techniques in the treatment room like music therapy worked wonders for them. Exposure therapy in a dental situation is also a treatment option that is gaining momentum. This involves initiating dental fear on a micro scale and gradually increasing the duration and services performed to afford patients more behavioral control when facing dental problems and working up to what they deem to be “scarier” treatments.

Last Resort for Those with Dental Phobia

In situations where someone is in dire need of dental treatment and they suffer from a severe dental anxiety, they may, as a last resort, rely on dental anesthesia. However even in this dental visit, there are degrees to suit patient comfort. One such degree is called conscious sedation. This is where a dentist or anesthesiologist administers a continuous medication such as nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas, while concurrently monitoring a patient’s vitals. This allows the patient to have full awareness of the treatment but without any pain. This is a good treatment option beyond dental phobia, as it can assist those clients with lower pain thresholds, too. There are very rare occasions when a patient needs to be placed under a general anesthetic, colloquially known as “knocking them out”. This option, which is not as hard as the colloquialism makes it sound, is reserved for only the most extreme of situations and occurs often in a formal hospital setting. The general anesthetic option is one medical professionals like to avoid unless absolutely necessary as it has the potential to negatively impact future dental visits.

The best treatment option is the one that works. However, now more than ever, with the emergence of non-medicinal options, going to the dentist for those with a phobia isn’t choosing between the lesser of scary options but offers patients a spectrum of options to suit their individual comfort level; they have genuine choice. Getting away from the old “now or never” approach in favour of a more metered approach is helping to ensure dental healthcare is more accessible than ever before.

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