Generally speaking, no one likes to visit the dentist, but this is an absolute necessity and something that should not be put off for a later date. Still, many people would do anything to get out of visiting the dentist; over 45% of British adults have said they feel anxious about a visit to the dentist, and about 12% have a severe phobia of visiting the dentist’s practice. Here we’ll discuss the most common fears and anxieties people experience, but we’ll also discuss how you, as a dentist, should handle and help such patients.
Fear of the Dentist vs. Dentophobia
There are two types of fear of the dentist: a general fear or anxiety from a dentist visit and a severe phobia called dentophobia. If the fear is mild, you can use simple techniques to relax your patient and help them alleviate their anxiety. However, if the phobia is severe, you may need to resort to more serious treatments to help your patients.
Types of Dentophobia
The approach you need to take with your patients depends on the actual type of phobia, i.e., what causes the fear. There are several leading causes of fear of the dentist; some patients have one, while others have multiple causes:
- Fear of the dentist: this is usually a fear of the dentist, as dentists are often considered harsh or unfeeling. A significant factor here is a past adverse experience, and people who’ve previously had such an experience are more prone to fear the dentist.
- Fear of pain: many people have very low pain thresholds and are sensitive to any type of pain, especially in the mouth and teeth. Thus, they are expected to have a dose of fear of going to the dentist, as they expect that there are no entirely painless dentist treatments.
- Fear of the drill: one of the most common fears is the fear of the drill, an inevitable part of most dental treatments. This fear is usually linked to a negative personal experience with a dentist.
What Causes Fear of the Dentist?
As we mentioned above, there are several main types of fears related to the dentist, many of which have similar causes. Still, the leading cause of fear of the dentist is a negative past experience. Having one negative experience with a dentist may shape a person’s life, lead them to have irrational fears and phobias, and cause them to forgo their oral health.
Also, people with dentophobia usually forgo their oral and dental health and avoid getting regular checkups. It usually leads to poor oral health, and they more commonly have more severe dental problems that may require more complex treatments. Some of these may include a root canal, adding crowns and implants, or even surgically removing a tooth because it has decayed beyond repair. Thus, the vicious circle becomes a reality, and the patient ends up having to spend more time at the dentist’s practice.
These are only minor problems as if a patient forgoes their dental health for a long time; multiple cavities can lead to tooth decay, infections, gum disease, etc. Any failure to treat the infection can cause it to spread to the bone or even other parts of the body, causing more serious medical problems. Missing or rotting teeth also lead to bad breath, trouble eating and chewing, shame, and avoidance of social situations.
How to Help a Patient with Anxiety and Fear from the Dentist
As a dentist, you can do something to help your patients who have fears and anxieties regarding a visit to the dental practice and having their dental checkup. Here we list the treatments you can apply to your patients to help them relax and have a more comfortable dentist visit.
People need to be at ease with their dentist, and if they, in fact, fear a visit to the dental practice, as a dentist, you can help them relax by talking to them. Talk therapy is a very effective treatment of phobias, and it can be conducive to scheduling a dentist’s appointment without doing an exam, during which the dentist can develop a positive relationship with the patient and help them relax and get used to the idea of having a dental exam or a workup.
While it may seem uncommon, distraction techniques can benefit people who fear the dentist. Some examples include listening to music with headphones, watching TV or movies, or even using a VR set to help the patient relax and take their mind off the dental procedure at hand. Such techniques work for people who have a fear of the sounds accompanying a dental procedure, especially the sound of the drill.
Giving a patient a sedative during a dental procedure could be necessary for people with severe dentophobia who can only have treatment if entirely unconscious. The sedative can be nitrous oxide gas (laughing gas) or a sedative medication taken orally or intravenously.
However, we must note that only experienced dentists should provide sedation as an option, as the sedative does make the patient more relaxed. Still, it can also lead to low blood pressure, amnesia, and general drowsiness. However, patients with severe dentophobia could be offered general anesthesia, which is only done in a hospital.
A possible way to help a dental patient with anxiety is to refer them to specialized therapy, which can involve cognitive behavioral therapy, guided imagery, hypnotherapy, and deep relaxation with deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques.
Using Digital Screening Techniques Helps Reduce Fear and Anxiety
As we outlined, patients often have fear and anxiety about visiting the dentist’s practice because of the dental instruments. A way to reduce the fear and deal with patient anxiety is to use advanced dental instruments where possible. One of the best advancements you can implement in your practice is to use digital instruments like a digital intraoral scanner. It avoids using impression putty, which some people find disturbing.
Intraoral scanners like Great simplify the entire experience of getting fitted for aligner, mouth guard, crowns and bridges, prosthetics, retainers, and implants. The Great digital intraoral scanner is so convenient that it reduces up to 90% of remakes and significantly reduces chair time. Also, it benefits all dental patients, especially the ones with anxiety or more severe dentophobia, as it is a painless, contactless scanner that gives you a comprehensive visual overview of the condition of the patient’s teeth and gives you an idea of possible treatments.