What Causes Dental Anxiety and How to Overcome It

As you are skimming through your calendar, you fill with dread as you notice that your six month dental appointment is coming up. With each passing day, you find yourself growing more and more anxious wondering why you have to go to the dentist at all. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. In fact, 9-20% of Americans avoid going to the dentist because they are afraid. 

At Pasha Dental, we want your dental experience to be the best that it can be. While no one necessarily “looks forward” to their dental appointment, we at Pasha Dental have done everything we can to ensure that at the very least, you won’t dread it. To help make things even easier for you, we have taken the time to compile this article about dental fear in the hopes that it will put you at ease before your next appointment. 

What is dental fear?

Many people suffer from what is known as “dental fear”. Dental fear can be exhibited in one of two ways: dental anxiety or dental phobia. With dental anxiety, patients are generally fearful of the dentist, but will still come in for appointments. Patients with dental anxiety may have trouble sleeping the night before their appointment, may feel increasingly nervous leading up to their appointment, may cry or feel physically ill at the thought of their appointment, or may experience shortness of breath during their exam. 

Woman looking fearful at dentist and covering her mouth

Dental phobia, however, is much more severe and usually results in the complete avoidance of dental appointments until the patient is in extreme pain and has no other option. Mental Health America defines notes that phobias, also known as anxiety disorders, “are not just a case of “nerves”. [One] can’t overcome an anxiety disorder just through willpower, nor can the symptoms be ignored or wished away”. 

It is also highly important to note that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) recognizes dental phobia as one of the specific phobias that currently affect 19 million Americans. The DSM categorizes dental phobia under mutilation. The other three categories for specific phobias include natural, animal, and situational. Because dental phobia is a recognized anxiety disorder, people with dental phobia generally need to consult a licensed mental health professional for help in managing their symptoms. 

What causes dental fear?

Dental fear can be caused by a number of different factors. Dentophobia and dental anxiety are often  related to fears of different sub-elements. Some people with dental fear will only fear one element, while others with extreme cases may fear every element equally. These sub-elements include: 

  • Fear of the dentist: usually spurred on by the belief that dentists are cold, unfeeling, or even sadistic. This fear can be reaffirmed if one has had a bad experience with a particular dentists. 
  • Fear of pain: many people fear that going to the dentist will result in extreme amounts of pain. 
  • Fear of numbness or gagging: some people fear that going numb will make it hard or impossible to breathe or swallow. This is especially the case for those who have choked before or had trouble breathing. 
  • Fear of sounds and smells: the sensory input associated with a dentist’s office can cause feelings of anxiety in some. Most people do not like the sound of the dental drill. 
  • Fear of needles: many people do not like needles and fear injections of any kind
  • Fear of helplessness: some people do not like feeling out of control, and because they cannot see what the dentist is doing, they feel helpless. 
  • Fear losing personal space: some people are uncomfortable with the physical closeness that dental exams can cause. Others can be self-conscious about their mouth or breathe and feel anxiety for these reasons. 

How to overcome dental fear:

Now that we know a little more about what dental fear is and what it’s caused by, let’s take a look at how we can overcome dental fear. 

  • Talk with Dr. Pasha: an important way to overcome dental fear is to have an honest conversation with Dr. Pasha about your dental anxieties. Because everyone has different anxieties and different reactions to those anxieties, taking the time to explain this to Dr. Pasha will help him provide you with more personalized care in order to reduce your anxiety. 
Dentist having a discussion with female patient and both are looking at a tablet
  • Ask questions: don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to before a procedure. If you have concerns about the procedure or are not sure about something, ask so that Dr. Pasha can provide clarification and explain things further. Some forms of dental fear are simply rooted in not knowing what is going to happen, so by asking questions you can be better prepared and know exactly what to expect. 
  • Find a distraction method: sometimes focusing your attention elsewhere can help you overcome dental anxiety. Dr. Pasha offers headphones so you can listen to your favorite music during your appointment. This will also help drown out any unpleasant noises. However, you can also bring something to fidget with, such as a fidget cube. Having something to “do” during your dental appointment can redirect your attention long enough to help you calm down. 
  • Hypnosis: hypnotherapy has been shown to reduce and relieve symptoms of dental fear. Hypnosis is a focused state of mind that relaxes the analytical part of your brain and allows you to be open to relaxation suggestions. Many people have been able to use hypnosis to relax at the dentist’s office and Dr. Pasha has a reputable hypnotherapist who can assist during your appointment. 
Hypnotherapist using hypnosis to relax a patient
  • Practice Mindfulness: if you regularly practice mindfulness in other areas of your life, this is the perfect time to introduce mindfulness into your dental appointments. Focus on your breathing, regulate your inhales and exhales, and count the number of breaths. You can also scan your body and slowly relax your muscles one at a time. This will naturally help you to relax and produce a calming effect. 
  • Ask about dental sedation options: if you are still feeling overly anxious to the point where it is almost impossible to relax, you may want to consider dental sedation. One common form of dental sedation, nitrous oxide, will keep you conscious and relaxed, and will even allow you to drive home after your appointment. 
  • Don’t skip your dental appointments: although this may be the last thing you want to do if you suffer from dental fear, skipping appointments puts you at a greater risk for dental issues that may eventually require treatment. As a general rule, the sooner dental issues are diagnosed, the easier the treatment is. 
  • Visit Pasha Dental: Dr. Pasha is devoted to providing his patients with the best dental care in Manhattan. Because of this, he offers the latest dental technology that makes dental treatments quick, effective, and almost painless. He also uses special glass so that patients can follow along with him during dental exams and be in control the whole appointment. He also offers the use of a hypnotherapist to help calm his patients. Finally, he offers “perks” such as flavored fluoride treatments and being able to pick your favorite soundtrack to listen to during your appointment. 

For an anxiety-free approach to dentistry, schedule a consultation with Dr. Pasha of Pasha Dental today!  Pasha Dental is proud to provide dental services for adults and children residing in the Brooklyn, NY area as well as to residents of Staten Island, Queens, and Manhattan. 

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