3 Things You Need To Know About Dental Phobia

For many people, a friendly reminder about an upcoming dental appointment reads like an invitation to the electric chair. If you're willing to do practically anything to avoid your family dentist, you may have a condition known as dental phobia. Here are three things you need to understand about this intense fear -- including what to do about it.

1. You're Not the Only One Who Has It

If you always thought you were some kind of anomaly in your fear of the dentist, take heart. Up to 40 million Americans are estimated to delay or avoid necessary dental care due to anxiety or fear. It's worth noting that you can be anxious about a dental visit without having a full-blown phobia. The latter is closer to a panic attack in severity, and it's more likely to keep you from seeking dental help.

Every kind of phobia or anxiety is unique to the individual, and this means that people may experience dental phobia for different reasons (or combinations of reasons). Fear of pain is a primary trigger, especially among those who had a traumatic previous experience in the dentist's chair. This fear may be exacerbated if you don't know the dentist well, or if you're afraid the anesthesia will wear off before the procedure comes to an end. But some people simply hate the idea of losing control over any part of the body, including the oral cavity. Others may be embarrassed about the state of their teeth and gums and fear being lectured or judged by the dentist.

2. It Can Destroy Your Health

No matter how afraid of the dentist you are, avoiding those checkups and treatments can produce some even more frightening circumstances. A minor toothache today can easily grow into a major infection later on -- and the longer you go without having it dealt with, the more extensive your eventual dental work will need to be. Gum disease and infected tooth roots can lead to tooth loss, painful abscesses, and destruction of the underlying jawbone.

But dental phobia can contribute to more than just a painful mouth. By avoiding dental appointments, you're not receiving periodic checks for the presence of oral cancer. Oral cancer is a particularly fast-growing cancer that can prove just as deadly as any other variety, and it isn't always evident to the sufferer until the late stages. A family dentist routinely looks for oral cancer during those twice-yearly checkups, making it possible to receive treatment as early as possible. \

Even an untended gum infection can affect other parts of the body. Bacteria from the gums can migrate to the major organs, causing heart valve damage and other serious conditions.

3. Modern Medicine Has Answers

Now that you understand the importance of overcoming your dental phobia, rest assured that modern medicine can make it easier for you to relax in the dentist's chair. For starters, look for a family dentist that specializes in sedation dentistry. Many dentists provide safe oral, inhaled, or injected sedatives to help you remain calm and collected without losing consciousness. (It is important to have someone drive you to and from a sedation dentistry appointment, as the sedative effect may linger for a while afterward.) 

For an estimated 20 percent of dental phobia sufferers, an aversion to the dentist is only one part of a larger overall issue such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, clinical depression, or another mental/emotional condition affecting everyday life. If your issues aren't limited to the dentist's chair, getting the appropriate treatment for them might help clear up your dental phobia as well. 

You don't have to let your dental phobia stand in the way of a healthy mouth and higher quality of life. Talk to a family dentist or psychologist about your problem, and get whatever help you need to beat it. Here's to your new, fear-free life!