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Dental Fear and Dental Phobia: What's the Difference?

For many people, the mere thought of going to the dentist triggers feelings of anxiety and fear. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America estimates that around 15 percent of Americans – over 45 million people – suffer from dental anxiety or dental phobia and it is probable that many more not included in this figure would identify themselves as experiencing dental fear or anxiety.     

The causes of dental anxiety and phobia can range from a fear of pain, fear of needles or doctors to past experiences of stress and discomfort. An individual’s predisposition to anxiety can also play a key role.

Dental Fear, Dental Phobia or Dental Anxiety?

Though the phrases dental anxiety, dental fear and dental phobia are often used interchangeably to describe a range of symptoms and reactions to dental practices in general, important distinctions can be drawn between them, which can be useful in finding effective dental treatment options.

Anxiety refers to the sense of unease associated with the unknown. If you suffer from dental anxiety, you may find that working with a dentist who is sensitive to your needs and communicates with you to create a comfortable atmosphere can greatly improve your experience and help you to overcome your anxiety.

A phobia is an intense and possibly irrational reaction to a specific situation or object that is perceived as threatening. If you suffer from dental phobia you may react to the sound of a drill, the expectation of pain or another aspect of dentistry for which you have a strong dislike or fear.

Overcoming dental phobias, especially if they are particularly intense, can be more complicated than dealing with anxieties and may require professional assistance. Dental fear is the term often used for a more mild form of dental phobia.

Like A Day at the (Dental) Spa

A new industry has emerged to work with patients suffering from dental anxieties and phobias. Along with the increased sensitivity on the part of dentists, sedation dentistry and dental spas now cater to those who want to look after their oral health but have trouble dealing with the stresses they encounter at the dentist’s office. Dental spas and sedation dentistry may be perfect for you if you are looking for luxury treatment or have dental anxiety or dental phobia.

Across the country, newly created dental spas are offering services such as massages and reflexology treatments as well as refreshments and other amenities to patients before, during and after dental treatments to create a sense of relaxation and pampering. The various offerings work to put you at ease and make going to the dentist a pleasant and even highly anticipated activity.

If you still find it difficult to relax, sedation dentistry and sleep dentistry aim to dull the stress of regular dental visits using sedatives and pain relievers. Conscious sedation puts you in an extremely relaxed state while still allowing you to speak with your dentist and respond to physical stimuli. For the most extreme cases, general anesthesia may be used to ensure that patients are completely unaware of their surroundings during dental work.

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