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Are You Afraid To Visit The Dentist?

December 19, 2011

Q: I am a “dental chicken” – can’t get myself to go to the dentist to fix the major dental problems I have, is this normal?

 Numerous children and adults have a fear of visiting the dentist. Many individuals equate dental visits with pain, discomfort, hefty bills, and other negative associations.

 According to studies conducted over the 1980s and 90s, approximately 75 percent ofU.S.adults experience some form of dental phobia, with cases ranging from mild to extreme. Of those adults, roughly 5 to 10 percent experience dental phobia so acutely that they avoid dental care unless they require emergency attention. 

Unfortunately, waiting for emergency treatment often serves to reinforce one’s dental phobia. For example, a patient wary of dentists may come down with a toothache. He or she waits so long to visit a dentist that the condition becomes dire, requiring invasive treatment. Because the measures required to treat the condition were extreme, the patient finds his or her fears reinforced, perpetuating the phobia cycle.

 Causes of Dental Phobia include direct and indirect experiences. A direct experience is the most common way one can develop dental phobia. While technology and techniques have progressed to a point that most dental procedures involve little discomfort, one bad experience is enough to instill a lifelong fear of dentists. Although direct experiences with dental care, including ones that involved difficult procedures and impersonal dentists, rank as the number one cause of dental phobia, secondhand experiences also play a role (Indirect Experience). Someone who went through a bad experience might tell his or her friends, thereby coloring others’ perception of oral care.

 Treatments for Dental Phobia: 

Just as dental phobia can occur via a number of means, a plethora of ways to combat the fear exists. Most treatments come in the form of behavioral techniques. One common method, positive reinforcement, involves dentists praising the patient for handling the simplest of ordeals, slowly building confidence during the visit. Another method, the tell-show-do technique, entails articulating the procedure using easily understood language. Dentists then offer a demonstration of the sights, sounds, and tactile elements of the procedure. Finally, they actually perform the procedure.

 Pharmacological techniques can be used in many cases. These techniques range from general anesthesia to mild sedation, both of which calm the patient. For example, nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, causes relaxation and feelings of disassociation. Other methods such as oral sedatives can be utilized as well.

 While there are other causes of and treatments for dental phobia, I hope this “BYTE” served its purpose in providing some general information about the condition.

 

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