Co-Editor-in-Chief, Judy J. Johnson, DDS
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 – 07:01 PM
Phobia in Dentistry (Dental Fear)
Dental fear or fear of going to the dentist is often joked about, but in reality, is a serious state. It is estimated that a third of American adults suffer from dental phobias. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 76% of adults saw the dentist at least one time in 2007. That leaves a third of American adults without dental care and the same amount of adults with dental phobias.
This relationship isn’t flawed or accidental. Years of research have proven that, along with the mental phobia of dentistry, dental fear has physical and social ramifications that are only aggravated as the length of time without dental care increases.
Dental Fear–A Self-feeding Illness
Dental phobias are characterized by the patient’s avoidance of the dentist and any dental care. This anxiety and fear of the dentist prevents the patient from seeking regular dental care. The resulting lack of dental care leads to dental health problems such as tooth decay, gum disease and eventually tooth loss. All of these severe dental issues are addressed using procedures requiring needles, drilling and pain.
Surprisingly, the dental fear sufferer knows about these issues and their treatment. It is in fact this knowledge that prevents a dental visit even when it becomes evident that there is a problem. Such behavior goes on until dental emergency forces the sufferer into the dentist chair. There, the feared procedures must take place to treat the now emergent dental problems.
Other Effects of Dental Fear
The fear of the dentist is further compounded by the emergency dental procedure, which has the sufferer sore and exposed to all of her fears. Some psychologists once believed that this experience helped because it forces the dental fear sufferer to face their dental phobias. On the contrary, the fears are only confirmed because of the severity of the procedures needed to fix the years of dental neglect. Thus, after the procedure, the dental avoidance begins once again.
Meanwhile, the physical aspect of the severe decay (tooth and gum discoloration, bleeding and tooth loss) greatly affects the dental fear sufferer’s self-esteem. The patient becomes self-conscious about this physical appearance, thus hiding of the mouth and teeth by not smiling or even talking in some cases. Soon personal relationships to suffer and the dental phobia sufferer have not only pain from the physical damage, but also from the psychological and social damages as well.
Treating Dental Fear
So how does one deal with dental phobias? Dental professionals have been researching this very question since 1954. Because of these experiments, behavior modification treatment methods have proven to either cure or ease dental phobias. In treatment, the most important goal is taking steps to deal with the dental fear before the damage is done. This prevention is done using one or a combination of behavior modification treatments until the fear subsides.
Regular dental visits
Some cases of dental fear are caused by a discomfort in strange places and people. Treating these patients with regular dental visits serves to familiarize the patient with the surroundings and the people in it. This form of behavior modification is called desensitization.
Question and answer session
Control is another source of dental fear. Dental professionals treat this fear by talking with the patient, conducting a tour of the facility, introducing the staff and creating a plan for the needed dental procedure with the patient’s input. By adding the elements of control with familiarity, this form of behavior modification works by relieving the anxiety that is characteristic of dental fear, and with it the fear.
Small procedures over several visits
In addition to giving patients control over the fear and familiarization with the process, dentists can also treat dental phobias by modifying their procedures. Rearranging a major procedure into several small ones over several visits is another effective way to ease the fear. Long visits composed of lengthy procedures just perpetuate the dental fear. Short visits and small procedures result in less pain and anxiety.
Comfort in the chair
Relaxation is the best remedy for anxiety and creating a relaxing environment while in the dental chair. Dental professionals try to induce comfort in the dentist’s chair in various ways. These include offering a choice of relaxing music and hanging inspirational or comical posters on the ceiling, visible while laying in the chair for dental work. Others offer patients, especially children, videos and programs geared toward taking the mind off the procedure.
Conquering Dental Fear is the Goal
There are many more methods proven to help prevent, reverse or simply treat dental fear. No matter what control, comfort, desensitization and familiarization are the most effective ways to attack dental phobias. Researchers and dentists both agree that ages old methods sedation and forced visits do not help the problem. In fact, these might even worsen dental phobia symptoms. The fear must be conquered, and the behavior modified to conquer dental phobias. For the referenced resourced information, go to http://www.smilemd.com/general-dentist/phobia-in-dentistry.aspx