Dentophobia: How to Cope with Your Fear of the Dentist

dental phobia
  • Dental technology and services have evolved significantly in recent years. However, some patients are still afraid to visit a dentist to receive routine treatment and restorative care.
  • While avoiding dental procedures may ease situational stress and anxiety, skipping appointments can have a negative impact on your oral hygiene, physical health, and confidence.
  • Modern innovations like oral sedation, updated dental care practices, and inviting office environments make a visit to the dentist more comfortable than ever.

While innovations in modern dentistry have greatly improved patient experience, many dread their dental appointments. While reasons vary for having dental phobia, a look at the latest oral health technology and approaches to dental care will help you understand how the benefits to getting treatment greatly outweigh your anxiety.

Why Do Patients Fear Dentists?

There are many reasons why some people are nervous when they visit the dentist. Some have had an uncomfortable experience when receiving treatment in the past. Others have been influenced by negative comments from friends or family members. Fear of loud noises or needles, and a misunderstanding of certain dental treatments can also lead to increased fear and stress.

Cosmetic dentist Dr. Mark Duncan of Aesthetic Dentistry of Georgetown in Georgetown, TX, empathizes with his patients, noting that people are naturally uneasy when they lose control or cannot see what their doctor is doing inside their mouth. “Of course, dentistry is done inside our heads, so not only is it a major violation of personal space, but patients can’t see what is even happening,” he says.

Dr. Donald Wilcox of Desert Smiles in Glendale, AZ, also explains that some patients have reasons for their dentophobia that their providers don’t think about. “Cost can cause anxiety, along with lack of communication between patient and doctor prior to the procedure. If this happens, it leaves the patient unsure of what to expect and fearing the worst.”

Tooth fillings, extractions, wisdom teeth removal, and root canal therapy are all commonly feared treatments due to the discomfort associated with these procedures. Others are worried about the impact of cosmetic improvements like preparing for dentures or receiving dental implants.

In some cases, patients are anxious about routine procedures, like X-rays or teeth cleanings. While the fears vary, the long-term risks of avoiding these treatments outweigh any short-term psychological benefits of avoiding them.

The Risks of Avoiding Dental Treatment

The risks of avoiding the dentist can negatively impact your oral health, overall health, and self-esteem. Poor dental hygiene may even prevent you from receiving any aesthetic improvements. For these reasons, Dr. Wilcox says, “The worst thing anxious patients can do is avoid the dentist, because problems that could be solved simply and quickly will become more complex and overwhelming.”

He cautions that once tooth decay or gum disease starts, it will only progress, leading to pain and the need for even more complex and potentially more painful treatments like crowns or root canals. In addition, he says, oral bacteria are directly linked to heart disease, diabetes and inflammatory diseases.

In all, Dr. Wilcox says, “Avoiding dentistry can not only affect the health of your teeth but have a deleterious effect on your general health.”

Dr. Ryan Clancy of Cosmetic and Esthetic Dentistry in Medford, MA, reports that some patients also suffer from potential social ramifications and the risk of emotional distress. However, he says, “Problems in the oral cavity do not get better by themselves. The anxious population, which dentistry has to date failed [to address], will require more extensive treatments at some point because of anxiety and avoidance of a dentist.”

Coping with Dental Phobia

One good way to cope with your dental phobia or dental anxiety is to find a provider who cares about your experience and uses the tools and technology to make you comfortable.

Dr. Clancy uses photography, videos, and testimonials to alleviate fear. As he explains, the more your dentist informs you about the risks, benefits, and steps of a procedure, the more educated and confident you will feel about your care.

A relaxing and inviting dental practice environment can also make a positive impact on how you feel about your dentist appointments. Dr. Duncan recommends alleviating anxiety by taking things one step at a time. Begin by finding a caring and open provider that is well respected in the community.

He also suggests speaking up when you feel worried about a treatment instead of feeling like you will offend your provider. He reminds patients that their specialist became a dentist because they care about people and want to help them. “If you share your fears with them, they will be happy to try to help!”

Dr. Wilcox agrees that finding a dentist and team that have caring attitudes is important. He also helps patients by using topical anesthetics prior to injections, as well as injecting medication slowly. He tells patients to feel free to bring their own gear from home for entertainment and comfort while they’re sitting in the dental chair. For instance, “Headphones can help relax, distract, and block out sounds of dental procedures,” he says.

Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation can also help.

Oral Sedation

Conscious oral sedation is a safe and reliable way to help patients feel more comfortable and relaxed during virtually any procedure. While options vary, many dentists recommend NuCalm, a patented neuroscience technology designed to relax the mind and body within minutes, without the use of drugs.

According to Dr. Clancy, “NuCalm uses biochemistry, physics, and neurophysiology to rapidly and reliably create deep relaxation so you can feel better, perform better, and live better.”

While he maintains it is not necessarily innovative, Dr. Duncan still also recommends nitrous oxide, sometimes called laughing gas, as an effective distraction for patients who experience dentophobia. In addition, patients can opt for IV sedation. Although it is more expensive and involved than other options, it may be the best choice for people who have medical challenges. This type of anesthesia can be administered in an outpatient surgery center.

Getting Started with Dental Care

If you need dental care but are afraid of the dentist, it is time to replace your past negative experiences with new and rewarding ones. First, remember that not all doctors are the same. Today’s dentists strive to be compassionate, use modern technology, and provide a variety of calming options for their patients.

When finding a dental practitioner, consider choosing one that uses sedation tools like nitrous oxide and NuCalm. Select a few popular providers in your community and call their practice to see if they are taking new patients. Next, ask if you can schedule a visit or free consultation to visit the practice and discuss treatment options for people with anxiety and phobia.

Once you find a dentist and staff that make you feel comfortable, provide the procedures you need, and have calming solutions like conscious oral sedation, it is time to make your first appointment. Your dental provider will begin with a routine cleaning and examination using your agreed treatment plan.

After a successful trip to your dentist, you will have the confidence to schedule your next visit and take control of your oral health.

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