September 21, 2019
Most people have felt stressed out, worried or even anxious at some point about an upcoming dental appointment. Who really wants to have strangers probing around in their mouths, using pointy tools that sometimes can cause a bit of pain.
And that’s just your regular visit for scaling and polishing. If you really want to talk about pain, try getting one of those Novocaine shots, or better yet a root canal.
But even considering these painful procedures and the general awkwardness of medical checkups, most of us find a way to deal with or at least compartmentalize our fears and worries.
Then there are those of us who actually experience dental anxiety and dental phobia. And you might even be one of those people who suffers from dental paranoia. If any of these sounds like you, don’t worry, you are not alone. And since it can help to exteriorize mental discomforts, let’s take a closer look at what each of these conditions really means.
What is dental anxiety?
Dental anxiety is when a person feels apprehension that something terrible is going to happen in relation to going to or being at the dentist. If you suffer from dental anxiety, you may be fearful or worried because you don’t feel like you are in control of the situation, or are worried about losing control.
Many people associate dental anxiety with triggers like certain dental tools, pain or dental noises. A person who has a history of PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depressions or generalized anxiety disorder may be at an increased risk to experience anxiety related with the dentist.
You may be wondering if you have dental anxiety. Have a look at the following symptoms and see if any hit close to home:
• The desire to cry
• Low blood pressure
• Feeling like fainting
• A faster heartbeat
• Increased irritability
Finally, dental anxiety may be caused by past experiences at the dentist, or traumatic experiences that an acquaintance has had at the dentist. However, in most cases, this fear stems from a bad experience in the patient’s own childhood.
What is fear of dentists?
Dental fear is generally characterized as a rather normal reaction that many people have about going to the dentist. If you suffer from dental fear, you may experience anxiety and worry associated with an upcoming dental visit. Many dentists are accustomed to dealing with patients who experience fear of dentists so, if you are concerned, you can make sure to see a dentist who will know how to calm your fears.
The symptoms for fear of dentists are similar to the symptoms for dental anxiety, except they are normally experienced at a less severe level.
What is dental phobia?
Dental phobia is a condition considered to be much more serious than dental anxiety and fear of the dentist. Those who suffer from dental phobia will do absolutely anything to avoid going to the dentist, and the fear associated with going to the dentist is completely overwhelming.
A phobia can be categorized as a very intense and unreasonable fear. A person with dental phobia will suffer through oral infections, toothache, wisdom tooth pain, etc. for years because for them, anything is better than going to the dentist.
The worst part about dental phobia, is that since those who struggle with this condition don’t go to the dentist, they are at higher risk for things like gum disease and tooth loss.
What’s more, since they won’t get braces or teeth cleanings, they have a smile that doesn’t fit within the societal norms of acceptable, and therefore they may also suffer from low self-esteem.
Sometimes those with dental phobia have a lower tolerance for pain, so it makes total sense why they may have developed an extreme fear of the dentist.
Others may have had a terribly traumatic experience at the dentist when they were a child.
And others may have dental phobia for no obvious reason at all—but that doesn’t make their experience of phobia less valid.
If this is sounding all too familiar to you, have a look at the following conditions to see if any can be applied to your situation:
• Experiencing panic attacks before or during a dentist appointment
• Trouble sleeping the night before going to the dentist
• You want to cry just thinking of the dentist
• You feel physically ill when thinking of the dentist
Just remember, you’re not alone and there is treatment out there that can help you; we’ll talk about it at the end of the article.
What is dental paranoia?
Dental paranoia is a bit different than fear, anxiety and phobias. The scientific term for it is “oral psychosomatic disorder.” This is a disorder where a patient imagines feeling oral pain, or experiences discomfort when biting. Although more studies are needed to understand this condition at a deeper level, there are plenty of patients who do indeed experience phantom pains or discomfort when nothing is actually wrong.
Some patients with dental paranoia visit multiple dentists to try to find a treatment for an imagined disorder.
Treatment for dental paranoia may be successful after stopping the unnecessary dental treatments, and instead by using antidepressants.
If you think you may have dental paranoia, you should let your dentist know, and it is recommended that you seek therapy with a psychologist.
How to manage dental anxiety, fear, and phobia
If you experience any of these conditions (except paranoia), it’s probably difficult for you to go to the dentist. You shouldn’t feel bad about it, it’s totally understandable that you wouldn’t want to go to the dentist if you experience these symptoms. Thankfully, there are some things that might be able to help. Some of the techniques recommended to deal with these conditions in the short term include:
• Guided meditation
• Progressive muscle relaxation
• Deep breathing
Of course, ideally, you would hope to find a long-term solution to these conditions as well. If you struggle from them, it’s likely you have for a long time, and will keep doing so if you don’t take action. You may find that seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist for cognitive behavioral therapy helps. There’s no shame in seeing a psychologist—plenty of people do!
And if all else fails, let your dentist know how severe your condition is. They may be able to help you through the process with relative analgesia, conscious sedation, general anesthesia or medicine to relieve your anxiety.