Being afraid of going to the dentist is a common problem, but your overall health can also suffer when you ignore dental care. If you have dental phobia, it’s important to understand why.
Common Causes of Dental Phobia
- One of the most common fears is of pain. Often this fear is not based on reality but rather on second hand horror stories passed down from other people. Parents, for example, can unwittingly pass their own unfounded anxieties on to their children.
- The fear of dental injections or even the fear that the anesthetic will not work is common. This is particularly true of people suffering from needle phobia.
- Some people are afraid of side effects from anesthesia. For example, they’re fearful of feeling dizzy, faint or nauseated.
- A fear of feeling helpless and out of control is very common. Often this fear overlaps with claustrophobia.
Communicate Your Fears with Your Dentist
Share your fears with your dentist. This is the best way to overcome dental phobia. In other words, tell your dental hygienist and dentist what scares you before you’re treated.
Be transparent about any negative past experiences. Fortunately, most dental procedures have vastly improved over the past few decades and aren't as traumatizing as they were years ago. What's more, ask your dentist to explain what’s involved in a procedure. Often, simply communicating that when you raise your hand the dentist will immediately stop, can turn a scary procedure into and easy one!
Although it’s often called “sleep dentistry,” patients aren't usually asleep, but are comfortably sedated with various medications. There are several ways the sedation medications can be administered:
- Oral sedation involves taking an oral medication, such as valium, before a dental procedure. This can reduce anxiety and take the edge off the procedure.
- IV sedation works quickly, allowing your anesthesia trained dentist or anesthesiologist to make constant adjustments in sedation levels. Time will go by very quickly and you will often have little memory of the procedure. Often, with IV sedation, years of necessary dental treatment can be caught up in one comfortable appointment.
- General and deep sedation may also be used. This kind of sedation is usually reserved for the hospital setting or an oral surgeon’s office. Wisdom teeth, for instance, are often removed under deep sedation by an oral surgeon.
The bottom line is to be proactive about your dental fears. Simply ask your dentist what can be done to make a procedure more comfortable. When I understand what makes my patients fearful, I can better determine how to lower their anxiety, putting them more at ease.
Peter J. Samuels, DDS is a local Gettysburg dentist and a clinical instructor at the University of Maryland Dental School.