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What is Dental Fear and How You Can Overcome It

Anxious woman biting her nails with her face in the shadows

Do you feel a sense of dread in the weeks leading up to your dental appointment? Do you find yourself becoming increasingly nervous in the final days and hours before your appointment? Do you sit in our waiting room, absentmindedly scouring through your phone trying to distract yourself from where you are?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you are suffering from some level of dental fear. Unfortunately dental fear is a problem that has plagued dentists all over the world and it is unfortnate for both dentists and their patients. It is unfortunate for patients because it can cause them to skip appointments, which puts their oral health at an increased risk for common dental issues such as tooth decay and gum disease. It is also unfortunate for us dentists, because we only want what’s best for our patients and we don’t want our patients to fear us. 

However, because dental fear is such an issue, we at Fox Valley Dental want to take some time and explore what dental fear is and how to eliminate or reduce it. Because we want what’s best for our patients, we hope that the information contained in this article will help our patients to better understand dental fear and how to overcome it. 

Woman sitting with her back against a blue background and a giant, screaming tooth mask in front of her face

Starting off with the basics, dental fear usually exhibits itself as either dental anxiety or dental phobia. Dental anxiety is associated with symptoms like shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, feelings of increasing nervousness, feeling the urge to cry or become ill during an appointment, or even having trouble sleeping the night before an appointment. Some cases of dental anxiety can be more severe than others, and because of this, individual symptoms may vary. 

Dental phobia differs from dental anxiety in that it is recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and is far more severe than dental anxiety. While people with dental anxiety may be able to attend a dentist appointment, albeit being nervous, people with dental phobia often avoid the dentist entirely. This is because individuals with a diagnosed phobia will often avoid situations that cause them to be confronted with the source of their phobia. 

When it comes to finding the source of dental phobia or dental anxiety, the causes are definitely overlapped. While a person with dental phobia will generally have a more severe reaction that causes them to avoid the dentist altogether, a person with dental anxiety may attend the appointment, but still feel anxiety in response to the same causes. Some common causes of dental anxiety and dental phobia include: 

  • The dentist themselves: in most cases, when the fear pertains to the dentist only it is due to a bad past experience or a misunderstanding about dentists in general. At any time in your dental history, if you underwent a not-so-favorable dental experience, you will likely fear dentists in general because you associate them with that experience. Additionally, if you don’t visit the dentist often or have never been, you may be defining a dentist incorrectly. For some reason, many people perceive dentists as being cold, uncaring, and sadistic. Once you meet our dentists, you will see this is far from the truth. 
  • Dental pain or injection pain: no one likes to endure pain. With that being said, people are extremely sensitive when it comes to mouth pain and many people believe that going to the dentist will cause them excrutiating pain. Along this same line is the fear of pain caused from injections or needles. Although this pain is short-lived, many people still experience anxiety over the sensation of an injection. 
  • Loss of control: unfortunately, since your mouth is just below your eyes, you cannot easily see what the dentist is doing. Because of this, some people feel a lack of control that can cause them anxiety. This can further be exasperated when dealing with feelings of numbness, gag reflexes, or the effects of dental sedation. 
  • Uncomfortable about proximity: when dentists perform dental exams, this requires them to be close to your mouth so that they can see everything accordingly. Some people are highly uncomfortable with this proximity and have anxieties about their smile or breath that are hightened when someone is as close as a dentist has to be. 

For some people, dental anxiety is caused by a single fear, but for others it can be a combination of some or all of these fears. It is important to identify what the cause of your fear is so that you can work on conquering it. It is also imporant to note that the aforementioned fears are simply the most common dental fears, and do not represent all the causes of dental fears. 

Dentist explaining dental procedures to patient using a tooth model

Once you have identified the cause of your dental fear, whether it is a common fear or not, you should discuss this with our dentists at your next dental appointment. This is important because our dentists want to help you and they can only do this if they understand the things that cause you anxiety. Before your appointment, make a list of all the things that cause you anxiety. Bring this list with you and add things as needed. While some things are just a part of dentistry, you and our dentists can negotiate how things should be done so that you feel more comfortable during your appointment. 

Man off to the right side of the frame wearing headphones

After you have discussed the source of your dental anxieties with our dentists, you may also want to take some additional steps to make your appointment more enjoyable. For example, you may want to bring a set of headphones so that you can listen to music or a favorite podcast during your appointment. Not only will this provide a pleasant distraction, but it will make it drown out anxiety-causing noises. Another thing you can do is bring something to fidget with, like a fidget cube. Ultimately anything that can distract you while not getting in the dentist’s way, is a good thing to consider. 

Are you dreading your next dental appointment? To enjoy dentistry anxiety-free, schedule a consultation with Dr. Dokhanchi and Dr. Micaletti of Fox Valley Dental today! We are proud to serve Aurora, as well as the surrounding communities of Sugar Grove, North Aurora, Batavia, Geneva, Montgomery, Oswego, and Naperville.

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