Dentophobia or toothache?

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Dentophobia or toothache?

Almost everyone has likely encountered the following situation – you’re enjoying some delicious ice cream or some other kind of sweet when suddenly toothache strikes! Oh it’s just a temporary zing, you think at first, but the pain does not subside. On the contrary, it only gets worse and more intense. Fantastic – so off to see the dentist is what the rational part of your brain is telling you. But wait – what is this weird and uncomfortable feeling that slowly but certainly creeps up on you? It can’t be fear of the dentist and all of his or her sharp tools, right? Well, unfortunately, it probably is just that – dentophobia.

What is dentophobia?

Nowadays, roughly 12% of all adults across all races and layers of society experience some form of dentophobia, which is the general fear of virtually any possible dental procedure. In some cases, the anxiety in anticipation of a potentially painful treatment can cause significantly more suffering for a patient than the procedure itself ever could. Though fear can often be very useful as the quasi alarm system inside the human body, it can also evolve into a tormenting sickness if it occurs more frequently or with higher intensity than usually. 

Kid with dentophobia at the dentist


What are the symptoms of dentophobia?

To determine whether you actually suffer from dentophobia, you first have to know what kinds of signals to look out for. A few of the most commonly encountered physical symptoms of dentophobia are:
  • Heart palpitations
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortage of breath
  • Panic attacks

Besides resulting in increasing mental stress, dentophobia can also have significantly farther-reaching adverse consequences such as postponed or cancelled dentist appointments that could have prevented the directly resulting, and significantly worsened, tooth decay. Additional major problems caused by dentophobia are extremely painful abscesses and inflammations inside of the oral cavity, pain medication abuse, and feelings of shame and deteriorating self-esteem. 

What can you do against dentophobia?
In very many cases, dentophobia is caused by unfortunate childhood experiences. To successfully counteract such an ingrained fear, one can resort to several kinds of treatment methods:
  • Calming breathing exercises
  • Physical relaxation exercises
  • Hypnosis
  • Nitrous oxide (laughing gas)

For particularly severe cases, dentists may also resort to the use of calming medications that can significantly reduce anxiety while keeping patients awake and just alert enough to respond to simple questions. One potential complication associated with this method of fear reduction is the fact that these types of medications have to be administered by trained and experienced anesthesiologists who have to remain present for the entire procedure to monitor the patient’s well-being. Dentists may also opt for the use of other anxiety-reducing measures that have nothing to do with the patient him- or herself, such as:
  • Stuffed animals, games and stories (for children)
  • Relaxing music
  • Relaxing practice interior (to create a “home-like” ambiance for the patient)
  • Fresh plants
  • Dim light
  • Nice fragrances (to cover up the “dentist smell”)

Finally, calm, friendly, and patient bedside manner can also go a long way to ease a patient’s fear which is why many dentists nowadays employ one or more of the following approaches when dealing with overly anxious patients:
  • Initial counseling via phone prior to an appointment
  • Calm and patient tone of voice during an appointment
  • As much information as possible about the procedure prior and during an appointment
  • No interruptions during an appointment

Though dentophobia is undoubtedly a very uncomfortable condition, there are fortunately ways to combat it to ensure that nothing stands in the way of successful regular dental care.

Dentist providing treatment to a patient with dentophobia

Well then good luck and a well-deserved breather prior to your next dentist appointment!

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