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How to overcome your fear of the dentist

Wed, Aug 22, 2012
Dental fear can be caused by direct and indirect experiences. Solutions include supportive dentist, sedation, and support from friends.
How to overcome your fear of the dentist

Fear of dentist or dental fear is just a fear of dentistry or of receiving dental care. When this fear becomes severe it turns into a phobia and that term is referred to as dental anxietyodontophobadental phobiadentophobia or dentist phobia. Not everyone can be depicted to be dental phobic; there are some who develop stress disorder after facing traumatic experiences during their dental treatment.

Causes of Dental Fear

1. Direct Dental Experience

The cause of this fear of dentist can be classified as the fear due to direct experience or fear due to indirect experiences. In the direct experiences are those when people or the patient develops dental fear after facing some difficult, traumatic or painful dental experiences. Experience itself is not the only factor which attributes to the phobia but also a lot can be perpeturated by the dentist's behaviour and the method of treatment.

Dental problem is very painful and people tend to look for a support or someone who can ease their pain; in such cases if the dentist behaves impersonally, uncaringly, uninterested or doesn’t break the ice between him and his patient; the patient slowly develops dental fear. If the dentist doesn’t provide good treatment or a permanent solution to the dental problem along with the cold experience; the patient will tend to avoid the dentist in the future. Even if people have painful dental experience, they tend to forget it if they find the doctor caring and cordial. Hence in direct experiences a dentist have more power in controling the experience than the actual treatement itself.

2.Indirect Dental Experience (Vicarious Learning)

The indirect experience involve vicarious learning; vicarious learning means learning about other people’s experience and developing a latent fear that such painful experiences might happen with you too. Second reason is mass media in which the negative portrayal of doctors and dentists may develop a fear in the patient that all dentists are the same; sometimes even in cartoons, the makers tend to show dentist in negative light for the sake of fun which may impact the children to some sense.

Another indirect experience includes stimulus generalization; stimulus generalization means development of fear of a dentist due to some experiences caused by similar situations other than at a dentist. If a patient suffered some trauma or painful or careless treatment for some other disease by a different doctor then they may create a notion within themselves that even the dentist would do the same to them. Otherwise if a person does not like hospital environment, fear of white coat, antiseptic smell or blood; they may avoid the dentist. In some cases where people have been harassed emotionally or physically; find it difficult and threatening to go to the dentist.

The last indirect experience is the helplessness and perceived lack of control. This means that some people find the prospects of getting anaesthesia, or sitting unprotected makes they feel helpless, trapped or lacking control. Some fear that the dentist will no listen to them and all these leads to fear.

Solutions for Fear of Dentist

Every problem has a solution and so does the fear of dentist. There is a treatment for dental fear and that includes an amalgamation of behavioural as well as pharmacological techniques. The behavioural techniques concentrate upon the positive reinforcement like praising the patient, encouraging them, using non-threatening language, show the technique, how the treatment will be carried out and whether the pain is bearable or not and most important that the dentist should assure the patient that he is doing the treatment for their good and will stop whenever the patient feels uncomfortable. A verbal explanation of the procedure in easy and understandable language is essential when explaining the student along with demonstrating with the aid of sight, smell, sound and other tactile aspects and all these should be shown in a non-threatening manner. The dentist should wear non-clinical clothes to reduce the anxiety of the patient and also a non-clinical attire will lighten the atmosphere in the clinic to a lot of extent. Other behavioural techniques includes teaching relaxation techniques to the patient, telling the patient to breath in and breath out also known as diaphragmatic breathing as well as cognitive technique for relaxation. One of the most effective behavioural techniques is the graduated exposure also known as systematic desensitization. In this process the patient is taught relaxation techniques and then they are subjected to the object that they fear; that object might be anything: a syringe, needle or other medical device. The patient is then put in test by implementing the relaxation technique while confronting their fear. Slowly the patient tries to manage their fear to a lot of extent and this helps the dentist in doing the treatment.

The patient should be made to realise that not all undergo traumatic experiences because of the difference in treatment, the difference in dentist and the different methods of techniques; not all can have bad experience. If a patient fear the physical environment like hospitals, smell or blood then such things should be avoided. Implementing non-clinical clothes, playing music in the background can help in relaxing the patient. Distracting oneself by watching movies, reading a book, and also listening to music while getting treatment is also a good option for distracting.

Pharmacological Solutions

Pharmacological treatment includes distracting the patient by giving medicines. For highly anxious patients it becomes very difficult to handle them as they tend to become hyper or go into their defence mode. In such case they are to be controlled by giving medicines like mild sedation or general anaesthesia. For reducing anxiety; a common medicine used in dentistry isnitrous oxide also known as laughing gas; if it is given in very low quantity then it can work as a relaxant.

Other than this; oral sedative like benzodiazepines such as temazepamalprazolam and diazepam can be given. These medicines may provide calmer effect; they tend to make the patient drowsy during dental treatment thus making them unaware of the pain and simultaneously communicate with the dentist. Sometimes general anaesthesia or local anaesthesia is given to the patient at the time of treatment so the patient is unaware of the pain.

After treatment pain killers are provided to the patient so that they can overcome their pain. Sometimes; sedatives in the form of IV (intra-venous) injections can also be given to induce immediate sedation and drowsiness in the patient because intra-venous has direct action in the blood though the veins as a result; its therapeutic results are also fast.

Psychological Techniques

Taking the help of a psychologist along with the help of a dentist can solve dental fear. Nowadays some dental clinics also have a psychologist to help people learn and manage their fear. Fear management skills are provided to the patients by the psychologists so that the patients can get their regular dental care and simultaneously overcome their fear of dentistry.

Fear is normal and can be easily resolved

Thus it becomes mandatory that behavioural and cognitive strategies are used to help the patient overcome their fear with all the means possible. It is not uncommon to suffer from dental fear because many people fear it. Everybody hates pain and if that pain reminds them of past painful dental experiences it becomes more unbearable. Thus for such candidates; they be properly handled; they should be explained about the entire procedure and how bearable it will be. If all these techniques are not so useful then going for pharmacological technique is the only means. However; with the combination of behavioural and pharmacological technique the patient may overcome or at least brave the entire procedure.

Help from Family and Friends

Finally; the most important strength of any person is their family and friends. If the patients suffer from the fear of dentist and the family members know it; then they should help the patient with all means possible. Having a peer or a family member next to the patient helps them and provides moral support. The family or friends should stand by the patient during treatment and should let the patient know they can rely on them. This can help relax the patient quite a bit. If possible the peer should be also in the treatment room where the dentist treats the patient; this will reduce the patients feeling of helplessness. Also if the patient’s friends or family know about the dental phobia of the patient they should try to solve it in the early stages. Don’t wait for the patient to develop a dental problem so that they can solve the phobia as well as the teeth problem; that is not appropriate. Instead make the patient overcome the fear before it becomes a phobia; a fear once developed into phobia can take years to overcome and this may also effect the personality and confidence of the patient on the long run.

Take the patient to dental fear central where they help people with dental phobia to overcome their fear. They have information for dentists, students and the staff which the patient can read and known about them. It provides tips for dentists on dental phobia and dental anxiety management. Encourage the patient to indulge in forums or blogs which aim about dental phobia and let them get inspired by reading the experiences of ex-dental phobic and encourage them time to time to overcome their fear by reading the blogs. The more they interact and learn from the experience that others have faced and are now in a better state will help the patient to take the plunge.

Thus after following these tips, knowing the causes and the treatment of dental phobia; the patient can overcome the fear of dentist. Also a slight help from family and peers can help a patient remarkably.

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