What is a Dental Phobia?
Dental phobia or dental anxiety is the fear, anxiety or stress in a dental clinic (or similar surroundings) or while visiting the dentist.
Why is Dental Phobia a Major Concern?
People with dental phobia or dental anxiety often avoid dental care which leads to delay in their treatment and eventually, the treatment done for the specific problem is usually painful because of the stage it is done in. This impairs the quality of oral health and overall health.
Coping with dental phobia is essential because a major concern is neglecting serious problems. Firstly, it is important to understand the cause of dental anxiety/phobia. Is it due to a past dental experience? Is it subjective or objective (i.e. opinions or ideas heard from others)?
Common fears can also give rise to dental anxiety, i.e. fear of needles, blood, the anticipation of pain, hospital workplace, and physical trauma to the head and neck. Coping with dental phobia is effective only when the dental professional knows the cause of the anxiety.
How Can You Overcome a Dental Phobia?
To overcome dental phobia, a combination of methods is used as the cause can be multifactorial.
1) As a Patient:
Patients, generally kids, may be curious or anxious about a dental procedure and watch videos, and images on the internet which might lead to procuring wrong information and increase fear. This can be avoided by providing the right information by the dentist and avoiding unreliable sources.
Inform your dentist about your phobia. You can ask your family/ friend to accompany you for the dental visit.
For the initial visits, only an examination is done. Upon getting acclimated to the dental clinic and its surroundings, the procedure can be performed gradually after a few visits as per instructed by the dentist. This also depends on the problem the patient is suffering from. In case of dental emergencies, this method cannot be applied.
Breathing exercises, meditation and other exercises can help you stay calm and overcome your fears. Deep breaths are an efficient method to calm yourself.
2) As a Dental Practitioner:
The simple method dentists use is explaining the procedure to the patient before it is performed and giving the patient a sense of control which is helpful when the patient has dental anxiety. Give the patient enough breaks during a dental procedure and ask if he/she is comfortable. This is known as enhancing control of the patient.
Building rapport, making the patient feel comfortable and asking about the history regarding past episodes or about dental phobia or any kind of anxiety can be the dentist’s role to play.
Methods Used to Relieve Dental Anxiety
1) Relative Analgesia: Nitrous oxide sedation, also known as conscious sedation, is a helpful tool for reducing anxiety
2) Distraction: The patient can be distracted by visual or auditory impulses.
3) Music Therapy: Research has been done on the effectiveness of music therapy in reducing dental anxiety. It shows that it may be an effective method for adults but more studies are required to conclude this method.
4) Medication: Anxiolytic medications (examples: temazepam) can be used. It’s critical to discuss medication with health professionals as it can cause side effects or certain drug interactions. Therefore only drugs prescribed by a doctor should be taken as instructed.
5) The Tell-show-do Technique: This is a very common practice used in paediatric dentistry. The patient is first explained about the procedure, it is then shown on a model/dummy (e.g. toy) and eventually, performed on the patient.
6) Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy has shown to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety, however, more studies are needed to use it on a daily basis in a clinic. Practitioners need proper training to employ this method.
7) Cognitive Therapy and Behaviour Therapy: These therapies aim at changing the negative thoughts and actions of the patient through a series of structured methods that can only be performed by practitioners trained in this. This method is considered the most appropriate technique to overcome a phobia.
8) Positive Reinforcement: This method includes encouraging positive thoughts and behaviour, which helps the patient to cooperate during the procedure.
Emerging Developments to Reduce Dental Anxiety
Recent times have seen a lot of advancements in the field of dentistry with a target to reduce dental anxiety. It aims at reducing anxiety-producing stimuli.
1) Atraumatic Restorative Therapy: Restoration procedures are carried out with minimal discomfort to the patient.
2) Lasers: Lasers are widely used in dental procedures, from cavity cutting to oral surgeries.
3) Topical Anaesthetics: These are used for patients who are afraid of needle prick. They are used routinely so the patient is cooperative and at ease during the procedure. Electronic dental anaesthesia and delivery systems in local anaesthesia are other such advancements.
As each patient varies with respect to treatment needs and the level of dental phobia. It is mandatory to discuss all the methods of coping in each case with a professional. The consent of the patient is equally important.
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Approximately up to 40% of people have some level of dental anxiety which can be mild fear or phobia. Trust your dentist and overcome your fears the right way. visit the dentist every 6 months to take care of your dental problems.
Don’t give in to your fears; your neglect can become your biggest enemy!
Dr Shagorika choudhury