Dr. Valerie Anithra Pereira
You decide to take the first step towards oral health this year and make an appointment with your dentist. But as days go by, you think of the appointment with a sinking feeling of dread in your stomach. Your heart races and you break into a cold sweat. The night before the appointment you toss and turn. Scary dreams plague your sleep. The following morning you are anxious and jittery, on the verge of tears. Finally, you find it easier to just skip the appointment altogether.
Phew! You heave a sigh of relief. The fire-breathing dragon over your head has been slayed.
Has this ever happened to you?
Being scared of a dentist is a very common phobia called Dentophobia. Dental anxiety is estimated to affect approximately 48-60% of the population, according to studies.
A large number of people avoid visiting the dentist just because of fear.
However, skipping dental check-ups can often pave the path for more problems and the need for complicated procedures like root canals or extractions which may be avoided had the person just gone earlier.
WHAT EXACTLY DOES ONE FEAR WHILE VISITING THE DENTIST?
The most common fear that is reported is pain. Children often show a fear of needles. Some people can be triggered by the noise of dental instruments, the smells of chemicals, or the sight of blood. Some may fear choking on the instruments. Also, a few people may be uncomfortable being touched and being close to the dentist and assistant. One may also fear the anaesthetic not working and the dentist incessantly drilling their teeth even when in pain.
WHY THE FEARS?
It’s hard to say why a person is scared of dental visits. Often the patient says his fears are irrational or rooted in stories of other people’s bad experiences. Perhaps the person himself has had a past negative experience with the dentist. Dental horror movies, books, and the warnings a parent gave as they scolded their kids “Do not eat all that candy, or the dentist will give you a big injection!” -all contribute to dental fear.
DEALING WITH DENTOPHOBIA
Dental phobia can absolutely be overcome. Nowadays dentists have many new systems of anaesthesia which contribute to “painless dentistry.” The Single Tooth Anesthesia (STA) System instrument is a computer-assisted system that puts the patient at ease and doesn’t hurt during local anaesthesia. Scheduling a consultation with your dentist and talking to your dentist about your fears helps, so you feel more comfortable going ahead with treatment.
Tell your dentist that you’re anxious so they can help you. Choose a dentist who listens to you, validates your fears, and works with you which aids in reducing anxiety. A dentist can evaluate your fears with questionnaires and suggest therapy accordingly.
Exposure therapy where you gently ease into the treatment starting with checkups, X-rays, and simple cleanings before going on to other treatments is effective. The dentist may also have aromatherapy and a soft ambiance with calming colours and pleasant music in their clinic to soothe the patient. He may also suggest behavior-management techniques, relaxation techniques like deep breathing or muscle relaxation, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, guided Imagery, distraction, and “Tell-show-do” methods.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be recommended where a therapist works through your fears. With new technology like air abrasion to cut cavities, Lasers, noise-cancelling earphones, and DVD glasses, dental treatment has become almost a pleasant experience.
In case all these don’t work the dentist will prescribe calming medications or offer the chance of general anaesthesia at a hospital.
Things you can do to deal with your dental fears:
- Visit the dental clinic with a friend or family member who can support you.
- Find a dentist who is understanding through word of mouth.
- Plan your initial meeting with the Dentist to communicate your fears to minimize stress and take it slowly ahead.
- Use a hand signal that informs your dentist to stop if you need a break.
- Visit the dentist early in the morning, to limit the waiting period and to avoid hearing the sounds of other patients being treated.
Some pains are physical, and some pains are mental, but the one that’s both is dental, said Ogden Nash. But that doesn’t have to be true anymore in 2023!
Happy New Year.
About the Author:
Dr. Valerie Anithra Pereira is a consultant dentist who specializes in Periodontics (gums). She has completed her BDS from AJ Institute of Dental Sciences, Mangalore. She then practiced at Narayana Hrudayalaya in Bangalore before going on to do her Masters’s in Periodontics and Implantology (MDS) at Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in Coorg. She has worked as an Assistant Professor in Periodontology at Bhopal University and Maharashtra University of Health Sciences, Nashik She is available for consultation in Panjim, Goa.
She can be contacted at 8208007184