Dental anxiety is a term used to mean fear in a setting where dental services are provided, e.g., before or during dental treatment.
This is part 1 of a 2-part series on dental anxiety. Next week I’ll be covering some of the actions you can take to help yourself overcome dental anxiety.
Severe dental fear affects approximately 1 in 6 Australian adults, and about 1 in 10 children. It is over-represented in middle aged women, and in this case up to 1 in 3 individuals have dental anxiety (1). Children can usually overcome their fear if they are given support and explanations, and have one of the many understanding dentists available nowadays (4).
Dental phobia, which is high dental fear that impacts significantly on someone’s life, affects about 5% of the Australian population (1). It can result in irrational fear and a complete avoidance of dental treatment, with resulting declines in the health of the person concerned.
Some mental health conditions including generalised anxiety disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or a previous history of head and neck trauma can increase the risk of a person experiencing dental anxiety (2)
Signs and symptoms of dental anxiety
People with dental anxiety may experience:
- racing heartbeat (tachycardia) or palpitations
- low blood pressure and possible fainting (syncope)
- nervousness, visible distress, sickness, crying or signs of panic
- withdrawal, or using humour or aggression to mask anxiety
- insomnia the night before the dental exam
- feeling it is difficult to breathe
- avoidance (do not attend for checkups or dental work)
Causes of dental anxiety
These can include:-
- a previous bad experience during dental treatment
- previous trauma to the head and neck
- assault or abuse
- generalised anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
- belief that accessing the mouth is an invasion of personal space
- fear of loss of control
- trust issues
- agoraphobia (fear of being in situations where you feel you cannot escape)
- claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces)
- obsessive compulsive disorder where there is an obsession around cleanliness
Hypnotherapy can help you manage all of these so you can enjoy worry-free dental treatment. If you would like to know more, call Lisa on 0403 932311 for an obligation-free chat.
Dental anxiety can involve certain triggers, and many people with this fear are triggered by more than one of them. Many of the triggers may originate from a bad experience in the past.
- The image of ‘The Dentist’: Negative experiences in the past may make people more likely to be triggered by this. This can be made worse in people with iatrophobia (fear of Doctors)
- Lying in the dental chair: some people feel that they have lost control when they sit in a dental chair and are tipped back so that the dentist can more easily work on and examine their teeth.
- Pain: Dental treatment is now mostly pain-free, but total absence of pain is generally not possible in dental treatment. This may trigger memories of earlier, more painful dental treatment. There may also be fear that the numbing injections will not work.
- Numbness: some people do not like having their mouth numb, and this can exacerbate the feeling of loss of control.
- Choking: Some people worry that they will be unable to breathe or swallow.
- Sights, sounds and smells: These can be associated with previous bad experiences, and can include the sight of needles, the chair (or the office in general), the smells of the disinfectant, and the sound of the drill
- Needles: Those with a needle phobia (trypanophobia) can fear the injections used for local anaesthetic.
- Loss of personal space: Some people are embarrassed at the closeness of the dentist and dental nurse during procedures.
- Blood: some people may be triggered by the sight of blood when they are asked to rinse their mouth, or blood on the disposable bib used to protect their clothing during the procedure.
Some people need less dental treatment than others. They may avoid sugar, not require orthodontics, have less dental decay and gum disease, and brush their teeth regularly.
However, if people avoid dental work because of a dental fear or phobia, this can have severe consequences:-
- Their teeth may decay, and problems which could have been treated can become worse.
- This leads to more extensive dental work being needed, which can be intimidating for someone with dental fear or phobia.
- Infections can start which then spread elsewhere in the body
- Their teeth begin to look unhealthy
- The person begins to lose confidence because of their appearance
Hypnotherapy can help with the causes and the symptoms of dental fears and phobias. If you have a fear, helping you to relax, and visualise a positive outcome for your procedure may be all that is required.
Alternatively, if you have a dental phobia, hypnotherapy can help with this too. Give Lisa a call on 0403 932311 for an obligation-free chat on how hypnotherapy could help you.