I can recall as a kid, on several occasions, being less than thrilled to visit the dentist. When my mother told me we were going to get my teeth checked it was all she could do to keep me from running to hide. But, I also recall that every time I was apprehensive my fears would quickly disappear when the dentist came into the room. He was gentle and patient and had an amusing sense of humor. I can’t say for sure that my exposure to the dental chair at a young age wasn’t at least a tiny bit of inspiration for my career choice years later.
But, dental fear and anxiety are pretty common actually. For some it is a mild feeling of anxiousness yet for others it can be an intense fear or dread, referred to as a phobia (odontophobia).Their reluctance to visit the dentist is often a source of pain and swelling, lack of nutrition, missed work, medical complications. When those people do eventually seek dental care, their teeth are often in such bad shape that they require more extensive dental work which reinforces their fear. Unfortunately, the fact that seeing the dentist for regular care and maintaining good oral health can be helpful is not enough of a motivation for many people to overcome their fears and see one. While some may have had a traumatic dental experience at some point, for others it may be due to other existing anxieties. According to researchers in Sweden, about five percent of people have severe dental anxiety. The researchers found five strategies people use to get over their fear of the dentist. Their findings were published in the journal, Acta Odontologica Scandinavica. Common strategies are distracting yourself (such as counting or mental games), distancing (telling yourself the pain or discomfort feels like something else), prayer, personal efficacy (telling yourself to be strong), optimism (telling yourself everything will be okay).
One of the things I always like to do whether or not a patient has fear and anxiety is to get to know them. I share a personal story and make my patients feel comfortable by asking them to tell me about themselves. I sit with them and explain diagnoses and procedures. I let patients look at the equipment I will be using. Some of my patients choose to bring earbuds and listen to their own music or an audiobook and that is perfectly fine. The important thing is to allow enough time to accommodate and make patients feel comfortable and their needs heard. Not all patients have anxiety or dental fear, but for those who do it certainly is not a deterrent to us caring for their teeth.