Dentophobia, or odontophobia, is an extreme fear of the dentist. Phobias are classed as extreme or irrational fears over certain situations, objects or people.
There is a slight difference between having a fear and a phobia and often these terms are used interchangeably. But a fear can be classed as something you do not enjoy doing, may be nervous about, don’t like, but will do it anyway. Whereas a phobia will cause the person to avoid all and any contact with that situation, person or object.
A phobia about visiting the dentist may cause people to avoid going to the dentist at all, giving them severe anxiety, panic attacks and nightmares. Rationally they may understand the going to the dentist isn’t going to cause them harm, but the anxiety means that they can’t help feeling it will.
Whether you have full on panic attacks or are simply afraid of what may happen at the dentist, this is something that needs to be addressed as oral health is important. So what can we do if we are just too scared to go to the dentist?
Find a sympathetic dentist
According to Chetan from Sheffield based Mola Dental “Firstly and probably most importantly, is to find a dentist that understands your fear. Someone you feel comfortable with, but also has experience in treating patients that are anxious.” Ask your friends, family or search online for a dentist that specialises in treating anxious patients.
Talking to the dentist and making them aware of your anxiety helps too. They may be able to give you some reassurance and decide on a signal you can use to ‘tap out’ if you need to take a break during the visit or any treatment. You can also talk about using numbing gel if you have a particular fear of needles and other plans to make any treatment easier.
Visit the dental practice when you don’t have to worry about attending an appointment. Take a look around, meet the staff on reception and the dentist. Often it is the stress of the unknown that causes most of the fear, so get familiar with the environment before making an appointment so you know what to expect.
Build up to having treatment, maybe after the initial check-up, you could just book an x-ray, then a clean. The more times you go, the easier it is to feel comfortable.
When you make an appointment choose an early morning one so that you have less time from when you wake up to dwell on it. Your first appointment will simply be a check up, so that takes the stress of any treatment out of the equation. See it is an opportunity to build a rapport with your dentist.
Take a friend or family member with you for support, it will help to relax you if you have someone there.
Use noise cancelling headphones to shut out the noises that may scare you, or you could listen to music or meditation to distract you during the visit.
Practice breathing exercises to slow down your breath. Focussing on your breath is a good way of not focussing on what is worrying you. Or any other meditation techniques that you know work for you in calming you down.
In extreme cases, you can visit a sedation clinic.
For extremely nervous patients, you could ask your dentist to refer you to a NHS sedation clinic. Your dentist will be able to refer you to specific clinics that treat nervous dental patients.
There are different types of sedation available. You may be given a sedative tablet to take orally prior to your appointment. Or use simple inhalation sedation. Inhalation sedation is a little like gas and air given during childbirth, but it is delivered via a nosepiece instead of the mouth.
You may prefer to receive your sedation via an injection into your hand or arm during treatment. This won’t put you to sleep, but will help to calm and relax you. After sedation you will still be able to talk to the dentist, but probably won’t remember much post visit.
What ever your level of anxiety, it is important to seek help. Oral health is important for your general well-being, so speak to your dentist to see what they can suggest.