Fear of the Dentist

Fear of the Dentist

I do not like attending the dentist, but go if I have to. A friend of mine refuses to attend even though she has had a toothache for a few days now. Why is this?

You are probably just experiencing fear or anxiety, which many people have at some time or another. However your friend could have an actual phobia about attending the dentist.

A phobia is different to just feelings of anxiety. It is emphasised by a person’s refusal to attend the dentist (just like someone who has a phobia about flying avoiding this type of travel). Problems may arise if the person is in serious need of dental care, for example if an abscess is developing.

As with all phobias, the person may experience intense fear and anxiety, panic attacks, nausea, even fainting.

What are the options open to a person who is frightened of the dentist?

There are a number of options open to people who are frightened of attending a dentist. Some are more practical than others:

  • Intravenous sedation: This is when a tranquilliser is injected into the vein and, therefore, the bloodstream, causing extreme relaxation in the patient while allowing the dentist to carry out the required work. This is seen as extremely advantageous for people who are afraid of the dentist, not least because many patients experience a loss of memory of the surgery. It is not suitable for everybody, however, for example those with anorexia or obesity it is recommended that an anaesthetist provides the sedation.
  • Inhalation sedation: This is when a gas (nitrous-oxide and oxygen) is inhaled through a mask. Children tend to respond to this type of treatment better than others. However the effects do wear off quickly.
  • Oral sedation: This involves the ingestion (swallowing) of drugs. This method can be quite problematic because it may take some time for the drugs to take effect, which can see the patient waiting around for a long time. This is highly impractical both for the dentist and the patient.
  • General anaesthesia: This is when the patient is "put to sleep". Because a trained anaesthetist is required as well as the dentist, many surgeries don’t offer this as an option. This is normally a last resort for patients.
  • Hypnosis: In recent years, hypnosis has become more and more popular for a number of things, such as giving up smoking. A person may attend a few hypnotherapy sessions before attending the dentist. This is still a very new area, however and can be an expensive option.
  • Psychotherapy: This may be in done in conjunction with hypnosis. Psychotherapy tries to discover the origin of the fear, such as a previous bad experience. Again, this can be an expensive option.
  • Support: Do not underestimate how helpful support from your family and friends can be. Ask one of them to attend the dentist with you if you think it will help.

I am afraid to go to the dentist and am too embarrassed to tell him this. What should I do?

Think about it; dentists probably have to deal with this kind of thing all the time. Ring your dentist up and explain your fear. Listen to their suggestions and advice. If they don't seem interested, do not give up. Ask your friends about their dentists. How does their dentist help them to relax?

Do not give up. People who are afraid of the dentist are usually the people who are most in need of dental care because they do not get regular check-ups.

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