Dental phobia can be attributed to many causes. Some of the most common causes of dental phobia include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Feeble gag reflex and/or hyposensitivity. This can range from one that is hard for a dentist to elicit (severe), or it can be one that is easily elicited by the dentist (mild). Sedation dentistry may be helpful here.
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from poor dental experiences.
- Wide variation in patient test anxiety scores. The majority of patients are sufficiently worried about any type of medical procedure, let alone one where pain is involved! This can also make an ongoing problem worse than it would have been otherwise.
- Having a negative tooth experience as a child. The erroneous belief that all dental visits are painful and/or traumatic (the actual root canal experience, for example, can be quite pleasant; but the anticipation of it might make someone feel even worse). This is reinforced every time a person sees their filling fall out or has another bad experience at the dentist’s office. They will then connect going to the dentist with pain and trauma.
The overwhelming majority of those who suffer from dental phobia are women. Until recently, most dentists did not understand how serious these issues could be or how they contribute (if only slightly) to worsening someone’s fear yet in some cases, one’s original problem may have already been quite bad and getting worse anyway.
This is because when the number of dental visits goes down, as they do for the phobic patient who dreads them, a problem that was minor and controllable at first can become problematic later on if not adequately addressed.
How to Get Help for Dental Phobia
If you suffer from dental phobia you should:
- Try to achieve a stable level of dental health by addressing any tooth decay or gum disease you may have (as these are both more painful ways to “get out” of going to the dentist), as well as any malocclusions that cause problems with chewing food.
- Visit your dentists’ office only under sedation. This will require that you find a dentist who is comfortable offering this service and also one whose services are affordable (you do not want to spend thousands of dollars on something like this).
- The dental staff should be trained in treating anxiety, as the entire office environment can contribute to someone’s level of stress. You should never feel rushed at a good office.
- Consider visiting a dental phobia specialist if your problems persist or have only very marginally improved.
The Treatment for Dental Phobia
Dental phobic patients may need to see more than just their standard primary care physician/dentist in order to adequately address their problem. A healthcare professional and/or team of professionals with experience in treating these types of conditions would be a good place to start.
Sometimes insurance companies will not cover this type of treatment if they deem it to be “not medically necessary” but many times, the phobic patient has had such poor experiences in the past that their quality of life and overall health were already negatively impacted by their condition.
One should always appeal decisions like these when appropriate (i.e., don’t wait until the end of your treatment plan before you try to get coverage for it as appealing anything can take time).
In practice, treating dental phobia involves:
Assessing the patient and reviewing their situation in detail.
This includes exploring why someone is uncomfortable going to the dentist, gathering information on any previous bad experiences, etc. The ultimate goal here is to understand how the patient feels going into and during any dental procedure, as well as why. This will help determine the best course of action.
Working with the patient (not for them) to establish a treatment plan that is manageable in terms of both time and cost.
Depending on your financial situation, this may not be an option right away but even if you have to work part-time while you get started, it should not take too long before you are able to handle things on your own.
Considering sedation when appropriate.
Dental phobia can sometimes be treated by addressing underlying issues like stress, anxiety, fear/anxiety related to specific dental procedures or pain sensitivity; avoiding such procedures when possible; using relaxation techniques; etc.
However, dental phobia sufferers who have problems even with dentists who use sedation or nitrous oxide may need to consider this option. Properly administered, it should not decrease one’s quality of life the way some might think.