Fear of Dentists (Dental Phobia)

Introduction

A good proportion of American citizens are reasonably afraid of the dentist (a condition that is known as a dental phobia). Some individuals voluntarily restrain themselves from going to the dentist unless it is necessary. Statistics indicate that between five and eight percent of the American population suffers from fear of dentistry. Most of the individuals who fear dentists cite prior bad experiences as their main reason for fearing the experience. Another group resists the idea of visiting the dentist because it is associated with the helplessness that comes with sedation and dental equipment. This paper explores the fear of dentistry and some of the factors that cause it.

Negative Past Experiences

Fear of dentistry is mainly caused by negative past experiences. Available statistics indicate that out of all the individuals who fear dentists, sixty percent harbor this condition because they have had bad experiences in the past. Fear of dentists as a result of past experiences is synonymous with posttraumatic stress disorder. People who have bad past experiences in the hands of dentists are afraid of reliving these negative moments. Consequently, fear of dentists can begin “after a traumatic, difficult, and/or painful dental experience” (Bernstein and Alexander 121). Nevertheless, fear of dentists as a result of past experiences can be exacerbated by the manner in which dentists handle their patients. Dentists who offer impersonal and rushed services are more likely to cause and elicit bad experiences among patients. Impersonal services can cause fear even when a patient is not feeling any pain. Fear of dentists as a result of negative past experiences can be remedied if the dentist takes time to understand the patient’s plight. Therefore, the dentist can reduce this panic by trying to understand the posttraumatic nature of fear. Most dentists make the mistake of assuming that different people will have similar reactions and feelings towards the dental experience. An example of a method that can be used to eliminate fear is to ensure that the patient feels in charge of the entire process. Consequently, the dentist will often ask the patient for permissions to begin, stop, or continue.

Feeling of Helplessness

Fear of dentists has also been associated with the feeling of helplessness that accompanies the dental experience. The dentist’s chair is synonymous with several restrictive experiences including being laid on a chair with harnesses and the inability to talk. Consequently, most dental patients are afraid that they will not be able to talk or gesture in case they need to communicate with the dentist. The experience of a dentist hovering above the patient and shining a light on him/her, and the scenario where the dentist is juggling medical equipment in the patient’s face elicits helplessness. The feeling of helplessness is enough to make individuals afraid of the dentist and the entire dental process. Some dental processes involve anesthesia a process that adds to the problem of mistrust and lack of faith towards dentists. Individuals who experience the fear of dentists because of helplessness should take their time to express their fears to the dental practitioners. In addition, individuals should feel free to ask any questions that they might have concerning various dental processes. On the other hand, dental practitioners should take their time to explain dental processes to patients. In some circumstances, a dental practitioner can postpone a procedure until a patient is comfortable with its process. Dental processes should only be initiated when the patient is ready and comfortable (Smith and Heaton 1102). Consequently, the fear of helplessness will be reduced gradually once individuals become comfortable around the dental chair. A dentist can deal with the feeling of selflessness by giving patients an alternative mode of communication. For example, a dentist can tell the patient that if he/she needs to talk, he/she should raise his/her hand or blink rapidly.

Embarrassment

Some potential dental patients are self-conscious and this prompts a feeling of embarrassment during dental visits. Dentistry is associated with the element of hygiene. Therefore, lack of proper hygiene is a potential cause of embarrassment among patients. Some dental conditions are accompanied by embarrassing conditions such as foul smells and distorted dental formulas. Fear of dentists because of embarrassment can also be associated with anesthesia-based procedures. Use of anesthesia can lead to hallucinations and delusions among patients. Consequently, a patient can act in a bizarre manner as a result of anesthesia-based processes. For example, patients have confessed to having bizarre mental visualizations as a reaction to anesthesia (Kunzelmann and Dunninger 264). Embarrassment can be remedied by dentists when they ensure that they maintain a professional attitude and uphold the code of conduct that coincides with doctor-patient confidentiality. Patients should address the issue of embarrassment due to poor hygiene by ensuring that they are well groomed when they are seeking dental appointments.

Anxiety

Anxiety is another source of fear when individuals are dealing with dentists. Most people are crippled by an unexplainable anxiety whenever the thought of visiting the dentist passes through their mind. Dental-based anxiety is caused by several factors including misleading information from mass media, unreliable sources of education, and an individual’s fear of the hospital environment. The portrayal of dentistry by the mass media especially in children cartoons is responsible for instigating anxiety among patients (Milgrom 317). Both dentists and patients have the responsibility of alleviating dental-based anxiety. For instance, it is acceptable for patients to seek psychological help when they are dealing with dental-based anxiety. This remedy is important for individuals who cannot bring themselves to visit a dentist. Anxiety can also be overcome when an individual seeks the assistance of close friends and relatives when he/she is making a visit to the dentist. Relaxation techniques can also be used to deal with anxiety in situations that involve dentistry. For example, it is possible for an individual to annihilate anxiety at the dentist’s office by using simple breathing techniques. A dentist’s constant assurance is also a good strategy to use when dealing with anxiety.

Cost

The cost that is associated with dental procedures is too high for most people. Therefore, some individuals will only seek dental consultations if they are in outmost discomfort. The cost factor in dentistry-based fear is made worse by the fact that only a few individuals have access to dental insurance (Berggren and Meynert 250). Most people are expected to cater for the costs of their own dental procedures. Adding the issue of cost to other causes of dental fear increases a patient’s probability of shunning dentistry. In some instances, individuals will come for up with reasons not visiting the dentist whilst covering up the issue of cost. Fear of the dentist due to cost considerations can be eliminated through concerted efforts by dental stakeholders in order to make dentistry affordable and accessible to everyone.

References

Berggren, Ulf, and Gunnell Meynert. “Dental fear and avoidance: causes, symptoms, and consequences.” The Journal of the American Dental Association 109.2 (2004): 247-251. Print.

Bernstein, Douglas, and Leib D. Alexander. “Antecedents of dental fear.” Journal of Public Health Dentistry 39.2 (2009): 113-124. Print.

Kunzelmann, Karl‐Heinz, and Peter Dunninger. “Dental fear and pain: effect on patient’s perception of the dentist.” Community dentistry and oral epidemiology 18.5 (2008): 264-266. Print.

Milgrom, Peter. “Origins of childhood dental fear.” Behaviour research and therapy 33.3 (2005): 313-319. Print.

Smith, Timothy A., and Lisa J. Heaton. “Fear of dental care: are we making any progress?.” The Journal of the American Dental Association 134.8 (2013): 1101-1108. Print.

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