Going to the dentist has never really been anyone’s favorite thing, but for some people, it goes a step beyond mere nervousness and slips straight into a paralyzing sort of anxiety. We aren’t talking the normal desire to avoid the appointment, or a little concern over the sound of a drill or having someone rooting around in your mouth.
Is Dental Anxiety The Same Thing As Dental Phobia?
Dental anxiety is essentially a milder form of dental phobia. Those with dental anxiety experience a deep sort of unease when they know it’s time for their appointments, and will remain tense and uncomfortable throughout. In spite of past experiences and knowledge to the contrary, they fear that the dental work will be painful, and worry about what’s going to happen during their visit.
Dental phobia, on the other hand, is a deeply rooted fear of the dentist, and any attempt to visit the dentist becomes an experience fraught with terror. Going to the dentist is easily one of the most frightening things these people can imagine, with the unease and discomfort spilling over the bounds of reason into a complete panic.
Why Do We Experience Dental Phobia And Anxiety?
The backgrounds of these conditions vary widely based on the experiences of the patient. For some they may have had a traumatic experience in the past involving their teeth or dentist, while for others it may be something as simple as the “I’ll be a Dentist” scene from Little Shop Of Horrors. Research has shown that there are a few common causes, however:
- Associated Pain – Many of those who have gone a year or more without seeing a dentist cite pain as the cause of their avoidance. This is common in those under 24 as ‘pain-free’ dentistry came into practice after their developmental years.
- Feelings of Helplessness And Loss of Control – It’s not uncommon to feel very vulnerable when you’re in a dentist’s chair. The need for immobility and lack of ability to see the procedure can leave them feeling helpless.
- Embarrassment – Those with failing teeth are often quite sensitive about their appearance, and baring the blemish they’re most self-conscious about and having it closely examined can be traumatic.
How Do I Know If I’m Experiencing Dental Anxiety?
As with most psychological conditions, there isn’t a clear-cut line between “anxiety” and “phobia”. Throughout our lives we all have to face these kinds of concerns, and how we manage them differs from case to case. If you feel terror or panic-level anxiety when thinking about going to the dentist, you may have dental anxiety. Other symptoms are:
- Sleeplessness the night before an exam
- Increasing anxiety during your wait in the lobby
- High emotion when thinking of going to the dentist, or observing dental equipment.
- You experience Nausea or get lightheaded when thinking of going to the dentist.
- Feeling the onset of panic when dental equipment is placed in your mouth.
If you can relate to any of these experiences, contact your dentist to speak about ways to handle your anxiety, including alterations in treatment and perhaps a referral to a mental health professional. Going to the dentist doesn’t have to be an experience fraught with fear, it can be a pain-free and uplifting experience that brings you a beautiful smile full of confidence.