Coping With Dental Anxiety
Updated: Jul 5
It’s very common for people to fear going to the dentist. Anxiety associated with the thought of visiting the dentist for preventive care and other dental procedures is referred to as dental anxiety. When dental fear is severe it can lead people to delay or cancel treatment, these individuals may meet criteria for dental phobia or odontophobia, which is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition as a type of phobia. It has been cited as the fifth-most common cause of anxiety. Anxiety is an emotional state that precedes the actual encounter with the impending stimuli. Anxiety is experienced in day-to-day life, such as in the workplace, while making crucial decisions, and in many other circumstances, depending on the individual.
Both dental anxiety and fear induce physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses in an individual. This is a frequently encountered problem in dental offices. Anxiety is often closely linked to painful stimulus and increased pain perception, and thus these patients experience more pain that lasts longer; moreover, they also exaggerate their memory of pain. Treating such anxious patients is stressful for the dentist, due to reduced cooperation, requiring more treatment time and resources, ultimately resulting in an unpleasant experience for both the patient and the dentist. It has been suggested that a strained dentist–patient relationship dominated by severe anxiety resulted in misdiagnosis.
Fearful and anxious individuals feel that something dreadful is going to happen during dental treatment, and hence do not visit the dentist. Such behavior ultimately results in bad oral health, with more missing teeth, decayed teeth, and poor periodontal health. They present to the dental office only when in acute emergency situations often requiring complicated and traumatic treatment procedures, which in turn further exacerbates and reinforces their fear, leading to complete avoidance in the future. Consequently, a vicious cycle of dental fear sets in if these patients are not managed appropriately.
There are many different reasons for and triggers of dental anxiety. Some examples include, previous negative or traumatic experiences, especially in childhood, learning from anxious family members, individual personality characteristics, lack of understanding, the coping style of the person, and even the vulnerable position of lying back in a dental chair. Anxiety can also be brought on by sensory triggers such as sights of needles and drills, sounds of drilling, the smell of certain procedures, and also sensations of high-frequency vibrations in the dental setting. Other common fears giving rise to dental anxiety are fear of pain, lack of trust or fear of betrayal, fear of being ridiculed, fear of the unknown, fear of radiation exposure, fear of choking and/or gagging, a sense of helplessness on the dental chair, and lack of control during dental treatment. Because the origin of fear can vary from patient to patient, it is critical that you identify your fears and share this with your dentist or another health care professional.
The initial interaction of the dentist with the patient can fairly reveal the presence of anxiety and fear, and in such situations, subjective and objective evaluations can greatly enhance the diagnosis for successful management.
One of the greatest tools for overcoming fears is to have positive experiences negating those fears. If you experience dental anxiety or phobia, here are some tips to ensure you maintain your oral health and receive comfortable dental care.
Talk to the dentist. The Canadian Dental Association recommends you talk to the dentist about your dental anxiety. That means opening up about fears and concerns, and about the treatment plan suggested.
Learn to trust the dentist. Read reviews online from other dental patients. Their independent feedback helps establish some trust in the dentist and how they have helped others with their dental care.
Ask the dentist about tools and resources available to maximize your comfort, such as noise-cancelling headphones, calming music, warm blankets and stress balls.
Ask the dentist about appropriate sedation options. Oral sedatives can sometimes be prescribed before dental treatments.
Get educated and ask questions. The dentist will explain treatments step by step. Seek out information from reputable resources or watch educational videos.
The best way to avoid complex dental procedures and pain is to have regular dental exams. Not only will the dentist diagnose problems and help prevent future issues, but he or she will also help manage oral health which is an integral part of overall health. The mouth is the gateway to the body.
At Clinique Dentaire WM Dorval we make sure our patient's needs are met by providing the highest quality care. If dental anxiety is concerning you or hindering your oral health, we are happy to answer any questions or address concerns you may have. Call us at 514-631-3811. We look forward to meeting you.