Although perhaps three quarters of people in the US experience some level of anxiety about going to the dentist, not everyone fears the dentist for the same reason. In fact, it’s likely that dental fears are as variable as the people who experience them, but they do often have some elements in common.
Below are some of the more common components of dental anxiety. Note: although we use the word -phobia in all the entries below, you don’t have to have a clinical phobia to experience fear of the dentist.
Trypanophobia is a fear of needles. It’s one of the more common fears, affecting perhaps 10% of the population. It’s also one of the most logical fears. After all, needles and injections do hurt. Needles are also associated with disease, and particularly in our post-AIDS society, it’s likely that many people have developed a fear of needles that is based at least in part on the threat of contamination from a dirty needle.
Most people have some degree of natural, healthy fear of needles and other sharp objects. In children, it’s expected that fear of the needle may be difficult to control. For adults, we assume that it’s possible to control this fear, but that isn’t always possible. Although a gentle approach by the dentist, use of topical medication to help reduce discomfort associated with the needle, and a gradual exposure to the needle can reduce the level of fear, many patients may benefit from counseling and/or sedation dentistry to overcome their fears.
Aquaphobia is a fear of drowning. Although you may not think that a person could be afraid that they will drown in the amount of water used during a dental visit, phobias aren’t always logical. Besides, it doesn’t take much water to trigger a drowning or choking sensation. Just a little bit of water in the wrong place at the wrong time can trigger the body’s alarms, leading to an anxious sensation. People are particularly vulnerable to choking on water in the reclined position common during dental visits. And once a person’s anxiety has been triggered, it can be hard to overcome.
Dentists can help patients overcome this problem by using less water, proceeding with caution, and always explaining when and how water are used.
Claustrophobia is a fear of close or enclosed spaces. Although the dental office may have an open floor plan, the dental exam process itself cannot help but be claustrophobic. After all, the dentist has to get in close to a person’s mouth to conduct the examination. Especially when a dentist and his/her assistant crowd around the patient, it can be overwhelming for patients with claustrophobia.
Dentists can help claustrophobic patients by always allowing them a way out–don’t crowd around patients on all sides. This also includes keeping the light further back, as the physical light itself and its illumination can create an oppressing environment. Also take breaks to let patients calm down when the experience gets too much. Sedation dentistry can sometimes help, and it’s important to take things slow.
Anthropophobia is a fear of people. It’s natural to have some level of anxiety when you put your health or safety in the hands of a person you don’t really know, but people with anthropophobia experience this fear to a great degree and may have an excess of paranoia about how people are going to hurt them.
Dental offices where staff turnover is well serve these patients well, because people with anthropophobia can feel more comfortable when they’re working with the same dentist, same hygienist, and same office staff all the time. Dentists can help these patients by taking time to introduce themselves and any other people working at the office. It’s also important to take it slow, perhaps offer a consultation or two before performing the first dental exam.
Atychiphobia is the fear of failure, which is actually very common among dental patients, especially those who have been avoiding the dentist for awhile. These patients are afraid that when a dentist looks in their mouth and sees the level of plaque, tartar, and decay, the dentist will judge them as being poor at caring for their oral hygiene. This fear is the reason why about a quarter of Americans lie to their dentist about flossing.
Dentists have a great deal of power to help control this phobia. They should make sure that they are always giving positive feedback, and, when instruction is necessary, it should be delivered in an instructive, nonjudgemental fashion.
Fear of Losing Control
Another potential fear that can impair people from going to the dentist is a fear of being out of control. In the dentist’s office, a person is put into a relatively helpless position while the dentist–whose authority makes them psychologically powerful–takes a physically powerful position over the patient.
This fear can be very hard to deal with because it may also make patients fear sedation dentistry, which can make them feel even more out of control. Dentists can help patients overcome the problem by giving them a larger role in decision-making, and always explaining what is going to be done next.
Help Overcoming Dental Anxiety
If you are a patient whose dental anxiety is impacting your oral health, you need to understand that not all dentists are the same. Orlando area dentist Dr. Michael L. Weinstock has a lot of experience with helping people overcome their dental anxiety.
To learn whether he can help you, please call (407) 834-6446 today for an appointment at his office in Altamonte Springs.