The fear of willingly submitting yourself to a person who requires you to remain perfectly still, while you inhale disturbing odors, and listen to skin-crawling sounds, and quite often, the experience of extreme oral pain is not really surprising in this country. The truth is 75% of adults in the United States experience some form of anxiety before going to the dentist. In fact, 10% of the population will do anything they can to forego seeing the man in the white lab coat stick sharp instruments into their mouths. This fear, generally known as “dental phobia” (though also known as “odontophobia,” “dentophobia,” or simply dental anxiety) is so extreme that those who suffer from it will only go to the dentist once their tooth pain has become so severe that they have no other choice to relieve the pain.
Methods of Treating Dental Anxieties
Many steps have been taken to help minimize the fears people experience in the dentist’s office; for example:
1. The dental environment makes a big difference when it comes to dealing with anxiety. The less a room feels or smells like a clinic or medical facility, the less the clinical experience will be. To some extent this is going to be impossible to accomplish, but there are steps being taken in that direction: keeping medical equipment out of sight; using pleasing artwork or photographs; using color schemes that promote peaceful feelings; music that soothes patients; staff and dental professionals wearing casual clothing instead of “medical” garb; and as much as possible masking or hiding the smells associated with dentistry.
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2. Open communication is also having a positive effect on those who fear dental treatment. This comes down to being open about your concerns and expressing them to your dentist. Let him know what you’re afraid of or what you think will cause you discomfort. How your dentist responds makes a huge difference as well: from his body language to his bedside manner. If he treats you like an equal, talks more like a friend, without condescension helps a rapport to develop between dentist and patient which can alleviate a lot of concerns.
3. Other means include various ways of sedation. Inhalation sedation has proven effective in making the patient feel more relaxed without forcing him to give up control as would be the case with IV or Intravenous sedation. However, IV sedation has also proven to be extremely effective for those who completely trust their dentist. IV sedation is so powerful that the patient is completely unaware of what is happening. This option his particularly effective for those who require a great deal of work done and suffer from great dental anxiety.
4. Technological advances have also made huge strides toward alleviating dental fears. For example those who opt for sedation will appreciate the ‘wand.’ Most people believe that the pinch they feel when given an anesthetic injection is due to the needle piercing the gums. This isn’t entirely true; generally the greater amount of discomfort is due to the speed at which the medicine is introduced. With the wand a computer controls the flow through a small needle making the entire process relatively painless. Other hand held pieces – like drills – are also much less intimidating than in the past, with quieter motors which helps ease anxiety in and of itself. There are even new techniques such as air abrasion and ozone therapy which are particularly effective on children and help reduce their future fears of seeing the dentist.
Finding a Therapist
If none of the current dental progress is effective in assuaging your dental anxieties then you may need to take the next logical step in addressing these phobias by finding a qualified therapist. Many professionals have pursued school therapy careers which have trained them to handle a variety of psychological issues – including dental phobias.
Clinical psychologists are able to treat mental health related anxieties such as panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, OCD and specific phobias. They are also effective with more serious conditions like depression. You may consider a therapist with this training to help you with your anxiety.
A counseling psychologist generally focuses on relationship type issues, family, work, or bereavement counseling, and other more “everyday” concerns.
In all cases, therapists are going to address specific types of problems depending upon their areas of expertise. You should be able to find one who specializes in phobias that include dental fears and anxieties.