COVID-19 gave some a great excuse to push back their annual check, again. As we move forward more and more practices are fully opening their doors. Indeed, at Zen Dental Studio we have been fortunate enough to only have been affected by enforced closures for short periods of time.
We understand that none of us run into the arms of our dentists expecting to have a great time. It is true though that for many of Brisbane’s residents the idea of going to visit the dentist is enough for them to break out into a cold sweat! It can actually lead to physical manifestations.
If you are one of these unfortunates, we have some tips which can help you overcome your phobia of dentists.
What is dental phobia?
Dental phobia and dental anxiety are believed to be on a spectrum. There are actually people who have a special focus on anxious and phobic patients within a dental environment. So, from your perspective… IT IS REAL!
Dental anxiety and dental phobia are different. You will find though that in daily dental practice they show themselves in much the same way.
A Dental Phobia often looks like the patient would do anything to avoid going to the dentist. The circumstances under which a phobic will attend and where the pain they are experiencing overcomes the level of fear they feel.
Dental phobia can manifest in different ways. It can be as straightforward as outright avoidance through to full-blown panic attacks in the dental chair. People with phobias of the dentist will avoid going to see a dentist for 40-odd years.
Some people who struggle will find it difficult to lie back in the chair. There may be crying, patients can get sweaty and shaky and they may need regular breaks.
Are you identifying with these? If so, rest assured you are not alone. Around 1.3 million Australians have dental phobia.
There are millions more affected by dental anxiety. It is recognised as one of the most common forms of anxiety and phobia across the globe.
Starting on a cycle of shame
Dental phobia can kickstart a troubling pattern where oral health worsens. It can often lead to more avoidance and may compound dental issues.
Along with avoidance, the health of the mouth deteriorates. Then the person may feel ashamed and guilty and become embarrassed. That then, of course leads to yet more avoidance and bigger oral health issues.
Where does a dental phobia come from?
Like a lot of phobias, Dental phobias often begin with a traumatic event. This event will most likely occur when the person is younger.
It may be that the first appointment is a little too late and results in a couple of fillings and a tooth extraction. No matter how great the dentist this can be a traumatic first visit to the dentist. Needles are never particularly enjoyable so try to avoid treatment at the first visit. The best way to do that is to go early before any issues have a chance to develop.
Some of the most common reasons for dental phobias can be:
- bad experiences as a child or teenager,
- absorbing other people’s fears such as your parents,
- a history of trauma.
Trauma involves a loss of control, a loss of self-determinism, and an inability to change a situation.
When we experience a loss of power that experience stays with us; our bodies have their own memory of traumatic experiences. If a trauma survivor feels powerless or helpless, or is in a situation where they have no control again, memories of the initial events get triggered.
It is true to say that the average dental environment is full of triggers, and there is a big power imbalance involved. At Zen Dental Studio we have worked hard to remove those triggers. Our environment is one that understands Dental Phobias. We have headphones for clients to wear that we can pipe your favourite through – no more listening to the sound of the drill! We also have TV screens on the ceilings. As you lean back you are treated to the latest shows on Netflix. Now that has to reduce the blood pressure, right?
Did you know that gum disease affects one in five adults? Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in the country, so regular visits are important. We are doing our bit to relieve the pressure patients feel.
What causes dental anxiety?
- A traumatic dental experience or other healthcare experiences
- Previous trauma to the head and neck
- Other traumatic experiences, including abuse
- Generalised anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
- The view that the mouth is a personal area and accessing the mouth is an invasion of personal space
- Fear of loss of control
- Trust issues
- Anxiety associated with other conditions such as agoraphobia (fear of being in situations where you feel you cannot escape). claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces) or obsessive-compulsive disorder, where there is an obsession around cleanliness
Can dental trauma be overcome?
We believe that the relationship with the patient is just as important as our technical expertise. The impact that we can have is transformational. We can turn around people’s fears and phobias with the right amount of care and empathy. Establishing a good relationship with your dentist will really make a difference on how well you cope with every visit.
There are also coping techniques that can be employed as needed.
- Practice deep breathing and other relaxation techniques immediately before appointments and when in the waiting room
- Consider arranging a meet and greet visit without treatment
- Tell the staff you are nervous or scared when booking, and talk to the dentist openly about your fears and ways that things could be made easier
- Bring a trusted support person to the appointment, or a comforting object
- Arrange an enjoyable activity after the visit
- Ensure you stop the dentist any time you need a break, and develop a “stop” cue together
- Book the next visit straight away
- A towel or back cushion can help you breathe more easily, and a blanket over your body can be comforting
- Keep sedatives tablets, IV sedation or general anaesthetic as a last resort. They all have side effects, extra cost and are often avoidable if a strong, trusting relationship is built
We want to know if you are worried so that we can help you get through the experience and begin your journey to better oral health. Please come along for a free initial visit, have a look around and meet one of our Dentists. We will answer any questions you have. Please call us on (07) 3353 0488 to find out more about us and our ethos.