Scared of dentists? You're not the only one.
Let's talk about Odontophobia
We are all scared of something, you might just be scared of going to the dentist and that's okay. But is it the dentist itself that scares you? Is it the fear of pain? Maybe it's the needles or the sounds or smells. Let us help you figure it out.
Odontophobia: having an intense fear of visiting the dentist for dental care.
Fear or phobia? The difference explained
Fear can be a strong dislike that may cause you to avoid something. Still, it's not necessarily something you might think about until the thing you fear presents itself.
On the other hand, a phobia is a much more potent form of fear. Phobias are considered a type of anxiety disorder.
They are known to cause extreme distress and avoidance — so much so that these interfere with your daily life.
Another characteristic of a phobia is that it's not something that will likely cause you harm in reality. But, that doesn't stop you from feeling that it will.
When applied to the context of going to the dentist, being fearful could mean you dislike going and put off your appointments until necessary. You may dislike the feel and the sounds of the instruments used during cleanings and other procedures, but you put up with them anyway.
In comparison, odontophobia can present such a severe fear that you avoid the dentist altogether. Even the mere thought of the dentist may cause you anxiety. Nightmares and panic attacks are also symptoms of this being a phobia.
But is it really a fear of dentists or a combination of things?
Knowing what exactly it is that you're scared of helps. We have broken down the different elements of odontophobia.
The Dentist: Like doctors, IRS auditors, and others in commonly feared professions, "the dentist" is often irrationally and mistakenly cast as cold and unfeeling at best or sadistic at worst. If you have had a negative personal experience with a particular dentist, you may be more prone to this phobia.
Pain: Until relatively recently, utterly painless dentistry was difficult or impossible. Even today, some procedures may involve a slight amount of pain. Many people are susceptible to mouth pain and fear that the pain may be excruciating.
Numbness or Gagging: Some people, particularly those who have experienced choking or difficulty breathing, are afraid of having their mouths numbed. You might worry that you will be unable to breathe or swallow.
Sounds and Smells: Many people, particularly those who have had previous bad experiences with dentists, are afraid of the sounds and smells of a dentist's office, particularly the sound of the drill.
Needles: If you have a needle phobia, you might be terrified of the injections that dentists use to numb the mouth.
I have Dentophobia, how do I cope with it?
If your odontophobia is severe and paralyzing, it is best to seek mental health advice from a professional before beginning dental treatment. Cognitive-behavioural therapy, medications, and hypnosis can help you get your fear under control. However, do not self medicate, make sure you see a professional before.
Once you feel your phobia is at a manageable level, you will be able to visit the dentist. However, it is essential to choose the right dentist. Today's dentistry is much different from what you may remember. Nonetheless, not all dentists use the same methods and techniques to assist patients with phobias.
If your fear of going to the dentist is mild, the best remedy is going to the dentist instead of avoiding it. In the case of major dental procedures such as surgery, you may ask to be sedated, so you're not awake during the process.
While not all dentists do this, you may be able to find a dentist who can adjust to your sedation wishes. However, if you have an actual phobia, the act of going to the dentist is much easier said than done.
I know it is not easy; in fact, like other phobias, dentophobia may be tied to an anxiety disorder, which may require a combination of therapies and medications.
Exposure therapy is among the most effective solutions for dentophobia because it involves seeing the dentist gradually.You start slow and take it at your own pace. You might begin by making visits to the dentist's office without actually sitting down for an exam. Then, you can slowly build on your visits with partial exams, X-rays, and cleanings until you're comfortable taking on an entire appointment.
Fearing the dentist is relatively common, however there are ways to beat this phobia so you can get the appropriate dental care you need!
Here are some resources we found if you want to know more about the topic and how to cope with it:
- Why the Fear of Dentists Is so Common
- How to Cope with a Fear of the Dentist
- How to Overcome your Fear of the Dentist
- Dental Anxiety (Podcast)
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