Anxious about the dentist? You’re not alone.

Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

Many dentists have patients with dental anxiety who express stress, fear, or anxiety at a dental appointment. It is usually linked with specific triggers such as needles or drills. But being afraid to visit the dentist can result in delaying or avoiding dental treatment.

The question is why only some people have dental anxiety. Studies show that mental health conditions including depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or a previous history of head and neck trauma can increase the risk of a person experiencing dental anxiety.

Individuals with dental anxiety might experience sweating, tachycardia (racing heart) or palpitations, low blood pressure and syncope (fainting), visible distress, crying or signs of panic, withdrawal, or using humor or aggression to mask anxiety.

Avoiding the dentist due to dental anxiety leads to worsening of the oral and dental disease, an increased need for emergency care, or more complex treatment. It also leads to the feeding of the base problem: dental anxiety, known as the ‘vicious cycle of dental anxiety.’

Most dental diseases are related to lifestyle and preventable. By avoiding the dentist, not only is one more likely to need complicated treatments when they finally do attend but also, they are missing out on learning how to better care for their dental health.

Predisposing factors from a lifestyle that lead to oral disease are similar to those that lead to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers, so taking care of your dental and general health is crucial.

Main reasons for dental anxiety are:

  • A dental or other health experience(s) based on trauma,
  • previous trauma to the head and neck,
  • traumatic experiences of other sorts like abuse,
  • generalized anxiety,
  • depression or post-traumatic stress disorder,
  • the point of view that the mouth is a personal area and this treatment is an invasion of private space,
  • trust issues,
  • fear of loss of control,
  • anxiety associated with other conditions such as claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces),
  • agoraphobia (fear of being in situations where you feel you cannot escape), or
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder where there is an obsession around cleanliness.

Dental anxiety is widespread and can affect people of any age group. Children who have had traumatic dental experiences can overcome their fear in most cases if the situation is managed well and if they are well cared for during future dental visits. Anxious adults and adolescents tend to remain worried throughout the lifespan.
Coping up techniques that may help include:

  • meditation
  • deep breathing
  • guided imagery
  • distraction (such as listening to music or the use of screens)
  • hypnosis
  • progressive muscle relaxation

A severe form of dental anxiety or phobia may require management with relative analgesia (laughing gas), stress-relieving medication, conscious sedation (twilight sedation) or general anesthesia.

Anxious dental patients will want to find a dentist who is understanding and sympathetic to their situation so that they can cope with dental sessions. Be open about any anxiety you may have during your next visit to our Summerville dental practice.

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