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Common Dental Fears

15 percent of all Americans have some type of dental phobia (The Anxiety Disorders Association of America) and in England, research has shown that visiting the dentist causes more anxiety than a fear of snakes or spiders (British Dental Health Foundation).  Despite the differences in culture, the reasons for dental fear tend to trace back to the same common triggers.

Dental care is essential for keeping teeth, but also to ensure that poor oral health does not negatively impact general wellbeing. Dental neglect and poor dental health has been linked to numerous medical conditions such as heart disease, obesity, strokes and cancer. Practicing oral hygiene is not only the best way to ward off those conditions, but can provide individuals with the proper level of dental health that can make visiting a dentist less intimidating, painful and can nearly eliminate the most common dental fears out there.


The Unknown

According to the American Dental Association, 25 percent of all Americans avoid going to the dentist because of dental fear. For many, it is the fear of the unknown that can trigger a panic attack. Those who are scared of the unknown freak out a bit when forced to deal with something they are not acquainted with and the dentist office is one venue filled with curiosity. Any dentist appointment is filled with unknowns such as if a mouth is brimming with tooth decay and cavities, appointment length, dental treatments needed and the expenses associated with the final bill.

Fortunately, individuals struggling with these types of dental fear have plenty of strategies they can implement to calm their nerves. Daily brushing and flossing will remove excess dental plaque, a community of oral bacteria responsible for causing a myriad of dental problems and health issues. Individuals who commit to removing the sticky film, exercise daily and eat a healthy diet will have lower odds of having surprising dental conditions and that confidence will automatically buck fear.

That confidence may be enough to prompt scheduling a dental appointment. Individuals who have a fear of the unknown can implement additional strategies to calm their nerves. The first step involves scheduling a dental appointment and letting the receptionist know about your dental anxiety as he or she will address your concerns to the team and may even allow you to come in for a meet-and-greet prior to any dental work.

If an anxiety sufferer is seeing a dentist for the very first time, they should take the time to visit the dentist office before the date. That process should include driving the route to the location (to eliminate other stress triggers like fear of getting lost or stress caused by not leaving enough travel time). Then a trip to the office will allow the anxiety sufferer to get a clear cut idea of the venue, dental care team, potential dental problems and expenses. That knowledge can be used for positive visualization, a behaviour modification technique commonly utilized by anxiety sufferers.


Scary Dental Tools

There was a time when pliers and whiskey were the most common tools in the dentist office and although the current tools are a far cry from those primitive means, they can still trigger fear in some dental patients. The most typical device that triggers fear is the dental drill with 30 percent of the British Dental Health Foundation survey participants reporting that the device was the cause of their anxiety.

If the fear carries over to other scary dental tools,  becoming acquainted with the devices such as mirrors and probes before they are utilized in a session can help. Frightened patients should explained this particular fear to the dental care team who will make sure to introduce all the tools to be used one by one in order to reduce anxiety.


Phonophobia is a type of anxiety triggered by loud noises. The fact is, some people cannot control themselves around sounds such as fingernails on a chalkboard, bangs, booms and whirls. Chances are, dentists are not going be able to conduct their job in complete silence, so individuals who have this fear should make a soundtrack for the event, plug in and tune out.

Research conducted at King’s College London, London, UK, found that both adolescents and adults patients that listened to music during invasive dental treatments were able to naturally reduce their levels of dental anxiety. The study used two groups of patients undergoing root canal; a control group of non-music listening patients and music listeners. All group participants had their anxiety levels measured before and after treatment and had their heart rate, blood pressure and finger temperature measured every 10 minutes until the dental work was complete. The findings showed that individuals who had tuned out had both higher finger temperatures and a lowered anxiety scores.

The great thing about fear is that for most of them, it is just a matter of mind over matter. Individuals who try these steps but still suffer from crippling dental anxiety that is blocking them from seeking preventative dentistry or restorative treatments may want to seek the professional help of a psychiatrist. The fact is, some individuals simply suffer from a chemical imbalance that can cause anxiety and a psychiatrist can prescribe the right medications to balance things out, calm nerves and allow a person to get the dental care they desperately need.

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