Statistics show that about 15 percent of Americans suffer from dental anxiety. Dental anxiety, or dental phobia, is more serious than just getting sweaty palms at the thought of going to the dentist — it’s a paralyzing fear of dentists or dental treatment.
If this sounds like you, keep in mind that you don’t have to avoid getting the dental care you need. There are many dentists who have the tools, techniques and caring manner to help make regular dental visits more comfortable and relaxing for you.
What Causes Dental Anxiety?
It’s easy to blame mom and dad for all our shortcomings — anxieties included. The truth is your parents’ behavior towards the dentist and a dental visit can affect your experience. The way your siblings respond also plays a role.
A study at North Carolina University has shown that your own overall anxiety level is actually a better indicator of how you will react to the dentist and dental visits.
Dental fear may also stem from:
- Prior painful or negative experiences
- Feeling helpless or out of control in a dental office situation
- Feeling embarrassed about neglecting your teeth
- Fear of being ridiculed about neglecting your teeth
How Dental Anxiety Affects Your Overall Health
The movie “As Good As It Gets” showed how an anxiety disorder could affect your interpersonal relationships. Dental anxiety has a similar effect: Skipping regular dental visits leave your teeth vulnerable to tooth decay; and when cavities form, bad breath follows. As a result, your self-confidence is compromised, which can limit your social interactions.
It’s one thing when anxiety affects your relationships but something else altogether when it begins to impact your physical well-being. The health consequences of dental anxiety are very real and can be quite serious. In fact, if you put off dental visits, your teeth and gums can become chronically infected. This can:
- Affect your ability to chew and digest properly
- Affect your speech patterns
- Lead to heart disease
Ways to Overcome Dental Anxiety
Many patients find that these methods help combat dental anxiety:
- Sedation dentistry, including oral sedation, IV sedation and nitrous oxide
- Yoga techniques for breathing and relaxation
- Listening to your iPod® during a visit
- Therapy/hypnotherapy sessions
Remember, dental anxiety is not insurmountable, but communicating with your dentist is important.