What is Odontophobia (Dental Phobia)?
There are a plethora of phobias in our world, everything from arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, to Lepidopterophobia, the fear of butterflies. But what, exactly, is a phobia? A phobia is an irrational fear or aversion to something. So irrational, in fact, that it could lead a person to leap from a moving vehicle to avoid a harmless little spider or a majestic monarch butterfly. Now, most people view this as a bit over the top, but it happens.
Odontophobia, the fear of dentists, dentistry, or of receiving dental care, is no different. You see it all the time, from sitcoms to a children’s movie about a lost fish. Often times it is made light of and used in a means to get a laugh, but it’s no laughing matter. This fear can cause individuals to refrain from going to the dentist, even if they are experiencing massive amounts of pain due to dental issues.
It is actually estimated that 75% of Americans experience dental fear in one way or another, but most overcome it. Those that do not, between 5% and 10% of American adults, suffer from odontophobia.
The Aftermath of Giving Into Odontophobia
Giving in to a fear of going to the dentist can have several adverse consequences, such as periodontal disease, better known as gum disease. Periodontal disease can lead to pain and the loss of teeth. Additionally, in some studies, it has been determined that gum disease can put you at greater risk for heart disease, make it difficult to control blood sugar, and it has been viewed as a potential link to low birth weight in pregnant women. So, skipping out on your dental checkups can result in a lot more than getting a cavity or losing a tooth.
How Does it Start?
Odontophobia can be formed in a couple of ways. The most common method is that individuals can develop this fear of dentists due to the first-hand experience that they have received in the past. These direct experiences can be due to an unexpected amount of pain, or what is perceived as a traumatic experience. On top of this, the perceived stigma that dentists carry adds to the misconception that the dentist’s chair is a place that should be feared.
Alternately, it can be picked up second hand, via social means. When someone has never been to, nor doesn’t remember going to the dentist, they can develop this fear from stories and opinions from others. It does not help that mass media often unjustly portrays dentistry in a bad light. As well as this, a previous experience with a doctor of any kind can translate subconsciously to dentistry. It may not necessarily be a fear of dentistry, but a fear of doctors or hospitals altogether. And finally, a large factor of the fear of going to the dentist may be a perceived loss of control. Being in the dentist's chair and being unable to move or communicate could cause a large amount of anxiety. However, this can be overcome.
Overcoming the Fear
It is understandable, though, that some people may have this fear for a reason. Whether the fear is learned first hand or via social cues, it can be overcome. There are behavioral and pharmaceutical options available to help someone to overcome their fear of sitting in the dentist’s chair. However, it is best to start small.
Realizing that you can, in fact, communicate with the dentist may be enough to help you on your way, such as agreeing on a gesture to indicate that you need him or her to stop momentarily. Your dentist wants you to be comfortable and leave happy.
Bring someone with you on your visit to the dentist. If you have a large amount of fear or anxiety, try to schedule a meeting prior to your appointment. Doing this, and having someone you trust with you, can ease your anxiety tremendously.
For those that are unable to overcome their odontophobia, then pharmacological options may be available. You should contact your dentist to inquire about the options, costs, and effects of choosing the pharmacological option of overcoming your anxiety.