In the UK 36% of adults don’t visit the dentist regularly because they have a fear of the dentist or the treatment. (Simply Health, 2019) Of that percentage, about five to ten percent of those people have a strong enough fear to be considered sufferers of a dental phobia.
Those individuals experience fear so strongly that throughout their life they avoid dental visits altogether, which can be highly detrimental to their health. It is important for sufferers to understand what dental phobia is and to know that there are ways to overcome it. Our team at The Mall understands and can help you.
The Causes of Dental Phobia
There are several ways to classify dental phobia. It can be known as dental fear, dental anxiety, dentist phobia, odontophobia, or dentophobia. They all mean the same thing generally: an intense fear of visiting the dentist for dental care. In most cases, people who experience dental phobia do so because of prior traumatic experiences at the dentist. The fear can also arise from a bad interaction with a specific dentist in a way they perceived the dentist’s attitude to be uncaring and cold, which understandably would increase the fear.
Sometimes negative personal experiences aren’t the only ways in which a dental phobia could arise. The fear can arise in some cases by indirect experiences. One way in which someone could obtain a fear of the dentist is through hearing about someone else’s traumatic experience. The mass media is a great influence on impacting people’s thoughts and feelings, so witnessing a bad portrayal of dentistry on a media platform can also cause dental phobia.
The association of a clinical smell, such as a hospital or doctor’s surgery, can trigger fear of the dentist if a patient has had traumatic experiences before. There can also be a natural fear of any person in a position of power such as a doctor or police officer.
Ways to treat dental phobia
There are several ways to treat dental phobia and they can range from behavioural techniques to some forms of medication. There are a few psychologists and RTT practitioners who can provide sufferers with tools and skills to help them learn to manage and combat dental phobia. Your dentist at The Mall can try and help you overcome the fear through gentle dentistry and explaining the procedures in a calming way to reduce a fear of the unknown. Also, simple positive reinforcement is another behavioural technique that may be used to overcome dental phobia, followed by appraisal after a successful appointment, which can help to boost confidence and diminish fear with patients.
Relaxation techniques can also be used to diminish fear, such as deep breathing exercises, and muscle relaxation through RTT tapping and guided imagery can help a patient to relax while in the dentist’s chair. Systematic desensitisation is a technique employed by psychologists to reduce anxiety and phobias. Through this method, the patient is gradually exposed to the object of their fear until he or she is able to combat the fear without assistance.
Hypnotherapy is a very powerful way to combat dental phobia. By consulting a hypnotherapist, you may be able to overcome your dental anxiety for good. New beliefs about your fears can be suggested in a hypnotic trance that frees from you the fear itself. If you have exhausted other options for overcoming your dental fears, it may be worthwhile exploring the world of hypnotherapy. The mind is similar to a computer hardware and essentially, we download its programmes. Through our experiences, we form not only our internal beliefs but our fears too. Hypnosis is just one way of creating new programmes and new internal beliefs that can transform the way you look at the dentist for good.
A fear itself is rooted in a belief system about the thing itself that causes us distress, so changing that way we see it can change our emotional reaction to it. Every habit of action is run by a habit of thought, therefore if we deal with the thoughts this resolves the actions attached to them. Again, hypnotherapy is just one way in which we can do this.
There are also ways in which a patient can help themselves to combat dental phobia. Doing the research into finding a dentist that he/she is comfortable with will help reduce the anxiety. If you feel a sense of trust with the chosen dentist, he/she will find it a bit easier to go to the dentist. At The Mall, you can meet your dentist prior to having work done and you can discuss your anxieties.
Stress balls are great for helping to control fear, because they can be squeezed in times of heightened anxiety. Meditation prior to the appointment can help you relax in readiness, concentrating on a positive outcome of the appointment ahead.
Anxiety is the body’s reaction to a perceived threat in your environment but the word ‘perceived’ is the crucial part of this definition. What is exciting to one can be the cause of anxiety to another. The reason why it is so important to understand this is because if a patient perceives the dentist as a fear fuelled experience, that is exactly what it will be. The body is always working in sync with the mind and creating physical reactions to your thoughts, which is why if you think about your favourite dessert your mouth can begin to water, even though you are not actually eating it. The body is reacting to the thought of the cake, therefore our internal dialogue is so crucial in overcoming dental phobia. Changing the way you speak to yourself can reduce the anxiety caused by fear of the dentist. Affirmation is a great way to begin to dialogue with yourself differently.
A few examples of empowering phrases
” I have phenomenal coping skills when dealing with anxiety “
” I choose to be in control of my emotions “
” I no longer fear the dentist”
One of the most effective ways of overcoming a sense of overwhelming fear, especially on the day of your dentist appointment, is to practice diaphragm breathing.
This type of breathing is a way of switching the body from its sympathetic nervous system, which is what we go into when we feel anxious or afraid ( fight /flight) to the parasympathetic, which is the body’s state of conservation ( rest and recover). By performing the following breathing sequence, you will instantly feel calmer and more rational about your visit.
(The 4 -7- 8 Breathing technique)
Step 1: Take a deep breath in for a count of four seconds
Step 2: Hold the breath for a period of seven seconds
Step 3: Breath out for an extended eight seconds
Not only will you instantly feel calmer, but you will also be able to think a lot more rationally about your dental visit. Anxiety can cause irrational thinking, but diaphragm breathing also helps you, at least from heightened emotions such as fear and panic and more from your rational mind.
Fear and anxiety can cause tension in the body. PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation) is a process of tensing and releasing specific muscle groups one at a time, and It is especially beneficial in moments of nervousness or panic. PMR has the opposite effect of fight or flight as it relaxes the body and has a calming effect on the mind. Give it a try and see the positive effects it has on your wellbeing. To give you a quick example of how PMR works:
Step 1:Clench your fist as tight as you can for ten seconds
Step 2:Release you your hands and feel the limp sensation
Step 3:Notice how much more relaxed it feels compared with before
By following this process from your head down to your toes, clenching and releasing each muscle, you create a sense of relaxation and calmness in the mind and body. This can be especially beneficial to perform before a dentist appointment. By releasing all the built-up tension in the body it helps to prevent reduce the anxiety that can be caused by a fear of the dentist.
The dentist at The Mall can also use mild anesthesia to help treat your anxiety in some dental procedures.
Here are some options to consider the day of your dentist appointment:
- Having a support system also helps lessen fear, and bringing a trusted friend or family member to the appointment is another way to reduce anxiety.
- Prior to the appointment, a person suffering from dental phobia should try relaxation techniques, such as meditation or thinking positively about the outcome of the appointment.
- Find an understanding dentist, such as those at The Mall, who specialises in treating anxious patients and take a look around the dentist. Meeting your dentist before your actual appointment will help.
- Booking an appointment first thing in the morning will give yourself less time to dwell on it.
- Agree some kind of stopping signal with your dentist before any procedure will help you feel more in control and less vulnerable when you are overwhelmed or in any pain.
- When you are first starting to visit the dentist, ease in by gradually building up to any work that might need doing. A simple clean and polish will be an ideal start, eventually building up to fillings and so on.
- If you have a fear of needles, speak to your dentist about using numbing gel.
- Listening to music through headphones during a visit will help to relax and zone you out.
Hopefully, you will find a technique or option that works for you. Dental phobia is a real fear of the dentist and extremely common in adults, so please speak to your dentist about any concerns you have and together you can overcome your fear. At The Mall, we understand – and we take the time you need to ensure you build confidence in our treatments.