An estimated 75% of adults have a certain degree of fear when it comes to dentistry. However, most people aren’t so terrified so as to avoid the dentist completely.
Odontophobia, derived from the Greek word for tooth, Odonto, is the extreme, irrational fear of dentists, teeth and oral surgery. Around 10% of those who have a general dental fear, suffer from Odontophobia. These few are likely to avoid dentists at all costs, often preferring to suffer through an agonizing pain rather than seek help.
In extreme cases, this fear can lead to a whole host of additional physical and psychological problems. It’s important to treat Odontophobia, and nowadays there are various methods available to do so.
CAUSES OF ODONTOPHOBIA
As with many other phobias, the most common cause of Odontophobia is believed to be the result of a traumatic experience. A painful procedure during childhood can quickly lead to a full-blown phobia. But more than just an association with physical pain, the atmosphere in a typical dental surgery can enforce negative association.
Bright, overhead lights, the whirr of machinery, a sterile, medicinal smell and a feeling of powerlessness can add up to a surreal experience in a child’s mind, and one they’re not keen on repeating. Often, the dentist can also play a part. Hidden behind a mask, with strange smelling rubber gloves, they don’t seem like the friendliest people to spend time with. If your dentist was impersonal or cold, you may not have even experienced pain, but fear dentists regardless.
A fear of dentists can also be linked with several other phobias, such as fear of doctors, needles or hospitals. Social conditioning can also play a part; with so many people talking negatively about visiting the dentist, it’s only natural to be wary. Likewise, in cartoons, movies, etc. dentists are seldom the good guys.
A feeling of powerlessness, and lack of control can trigger Odontophobia in some patients. Those with authority issues, or those who have been mentally, physically or sexually abused, may find the thought of laying back, unable to speak while someone pokes around at your teeth, terrifying.
SYMPTOMS OF ODONTOPHOBIA
The direct symptoms of Odontophobia are similar to those of many other phobias. Sufferers may experience intense anxiety attacks while at the dentist, or even just thinking about it. An increased heartbeat, hot or cold flushes, dizziness, nausea, profuse sweating and the need to escape are all common symptoms.
In the leadup to treatment, Odontophobes will find it difficult to think about anything else, which can have a huge impact on their work and social life. This can lead to bouts of depression, isolation and insomnia.
One of the main symptoms is a complete avoidance of dentists and oral procedures. Patients are more likely to suffer months, or even years of agonizing toothache, infections or gum disease, rather than visit the dentist.
This can lead to a myriad of mouth/teeth problems, such as crooked teeth, chronic bad breath and disfigured gums. In turn, these can lead to further physical and mental ailments, such as isolation from society, heart failure, depression and obesity.
Fortunately, there are several ways to overcome your fear of dentists, and modern-day practices are generally a lot friendlier than those of yesteryear. Increasing numbers of dentists are proficient in a specialized form of behavioural therapy, utilizing a tell-show-do technique.
They will explain each sound and smell and discuss each procedure before performing any work on your teeth. By putting the patient at ease using positive affirmations and explaining what is going on, they become more relatable, and the procedures don’t seem anywhere near as terrifying.
Systematic desensitization is another technique, for those who aren’t ready to jump straight in. Also known as exposure therapy, the patient is taught relaxation techniques, while gradually being exposed to their fear. Eventually, they will be comfortable in the dentist’s chair.
Extreme sufferers may benefit from hypnotherapy, which is ideal if you cannot even begin to think about dentists. By speaking to your unconscious mind directly, the therapist is able to determine the cause of your phobia, and attach positive ideas to dentists.
In today’s digital world, there are even apps or audio therapy sessions such as subliminals you can download to help rid you of your phobia.
BENEFITS OF OVERCOMING FEAR OF DENTISTS
There are a huge number of benefits of overcoming Odontophobia, especially for those suffering from tooth related pain. By treating your fear, you will be able to treat any other problems you’re having with your teeth or gums. This can save you from more expensive and complicated procedures or surgery further down the line.
But it can also help you walk with confidence again, without being afraid to smile at people. Just as many additional issues can stem from Odontophobia, these same issues can also be resolved by curing your fear and taking that long-awaited trip to the dentist.