Most dental procedures, contrary to common belief, are not painful. However, dental appointments can be a nightmare for many, regardless of age or background. To understand this fear and why it is so prevalent, let us look into its causes, types, and the complications it can lead to.
What is dentophobia?
Not to be mistaken for the milder dental anxiety, dentophobia is the intense and irrational fear of going to the dentist. People with dental anxiety can voluntarily schedule and show up for dental appointments, whereas those with dentophobia are unable to do either.
A dentophobic person may have a degree of awareness that their fear is unreasonable, but cannot do anything about it. They often put off dental care and examinations for years or even decades. They will endure gum diseases, severe pain, and even broken teeth just to avoid seeing a dentist.
Causes of dentophobia
Previous negative experiences are a common cause of dentophobia. They may have had complications from or gone through an extremely painful dental procedure. A previous dentist may have been negligent or cold to them or had a negative interaction with them.
Some people who had traumatic experiences unrelated to dentistry may also be dentophobic; specifically, those who have been tortured or abused. They often have a much greater need to feel in control, and the vulnerability of reclining on the dental chair makes them feel prone or helpless.
As social creatures, dentophobia can also be brought by indirect experiences. Someone with an existing fear of dentists might have shared their traumatic experience with another person, who then developed the phobia, as well. This can be passed on from strong influences, such as parents and the media.
Types of dentophobia
Dental processes have several elements. Someone with a milder case of dentophobia may fear only one of these elements, whereas severe cases may fear most or all of them at once. Here are the specific elements a dentophobic person may fear.
A dentophobic patient may not fear the dental equipment and the pain of procedures, but is solely afraid of the dentist. Those who had a negative first-hand experience with a dentist tend to fall into this type.
Dentists use needles to numb the mouth, which scares trypanophobic patients or who are extremely afraid of shots and injections.
Humans have an inherent aversion to pain. Painless dental procedures were impossible for the longest time, so it might be difficult to dissociate dentistry from it, especially since a lot of people are sensitive to mouth pain.
Numbness and gagging
People who have experienced breathing difficulties and choking may fear the possibility of being unable to breathe or swallow if their mouths are numbed.
Sounds and smells
Sounds and smells can trigger memories, including unpleasant ones. The sound of the dental drill and aseptic smell, for example, are very prominent in dental offices. Some facilities even alleviate these by offering headsets and aromatherapy, such as the “zen dental experience” detailed in naturalsmilesky.com.
Our primal instincts may find dental procedures threatening — we lay prone on a chair and open up a vulnerable body part, with the possibility of experiencing pain. But as humans, we are above these instincts. With ample help and effective treatments, we can overcome this fear and make dental visits a positive experience.