Have you ever noticed a terrified person soaked in sweat in a dental clinic? Or someone is shouting too badly when the dentist is approaching them for a dental checkup? If yes, then you should be rest assured that they are suffering from an irrational fear of dentists known as dentophobia.
This irrelevant fear causes terror and patient to such an extent that the person displays signs of physical and psychological issues that also leads to poor oral health and hygiene. In the face of this extreme fear, most patients either avoid going to the dentist or screams and shouts a lot while undergoing various dental procedures.
Let us learn about the signs of this specific phobia along with the line of treatment here.
What is Dentophobia?
Dentophobia means irrational fear of visiting a dentist. The underlying tension and anxiety is related to the medical procedures that the person will have to experience in the dental clinic.
We all know that oral health is an important part of our daily lives. It is an important piece of our overall physical health. But many people often tend to ignore dental health. Many people ignore their dental problems for the simple reason that they do not consider it to be important.
But for some others, the reason is quite different. A large number of the general population suffers from dentophobia or a fear of the dentist. According to an American survey conducted in 2009, as much as 36% of Americans suffer from some degree of dentophobia.
In this article, we will discuss dentophobia in detail. We will dive deeper into what it means, what are its symptoms and causes, and how to treat it.
Before talking about dentophobia, we must first know what exactly is meant by a phobia. In terms of psychology, a phobia is a specific type of anxiety disorder. Psychologists classify phobias into several types. Dentophobia falls under the category of specific phobias.
The term phobia means an extreme fear of some object, situation, or experience. But the key point is that this fear is irrational. When an individual has a phobia of something, it means that they have an extreme fear of something.
But in reality, that thing is not harmful or dangerous at all. In this context, it would not be wrong to define dentophobia as an extreme form of dental fears or dental anxiety.
In simple layman’s terms, we can say that dentophobia is an intense fear of visiting the dentist. But the main point is that this fear is an unnatural one. People with dental phobia avoid making dental visits even when they are feeling pain in their teeth due to some problems.
They know that visiting a dental office and getting the necessary dental treatment will help to ease their pain. But they still do not go to the dentist office because of some unexplained fear.
A national health survey conducted in the USA in 2009 found that 36% Americans suffer from some degree of dentophobia. The same study reveals that one-third out of those 36% Americans, which means 12% of the entire population, have an extreme level of dental fear.
According to another study, 75% of adults in developed countries worldwide have a significant extent of dentophobia and tend to avoid the dentist.
Some studies have found that dentophobia is more common among females than in males, on a global scale. Almost 3% of men worldwide suffer from dentophobia. In the case of females, this percentage is about 5%.
All these statistics show that the dentist’s office is one of the most commonly feared places to visit, not only for children but for adults as well.
10 notable dentophobia symptoms or signs
The symptoms of dentophobia vary in considerable manner from one person to another. This depends on the extent of the fear of dental procedures in each person.
Some common symptoms of dentophobia may include the following:
Some people may start crying whenever they think about going to a dental clinic. In the case of some others, they may not react when they are home. But the fear may set in when they are about to enter the dentist’s office.
They may enter the waiting room outside the clinic and start crying. In some other cases, the individual may feel comfortable even when they enter the dentist’s office. But the moment they sit down on the dentist’s chair, they will start crying.
Some individuals may become insomniac for several days before they have an appointment for a dental procedure. They spend sleepless nights thinking about the upcoming day when they would have to face their fear and go to the dentist.
Extreme fear can have different effects on people’s bodies. In some individuals, because of extreme fear, their body starts shutting down. This means that their body’s temperature drops, and they start becoming cold.
In such conditions, the human body’s natural defense mechanism is to involuntarily make the body shiver. This shivering makes the body’s muscles move at a rapid speed. In turn, that brings up the body’s temperature to normal level.
People with dentophobia may suddenly start having chills just when they are just about to enter the dentist’s room, or when they go in and sit on the dental chair.
4. Nervous tremors or trembling
Some people may experience nervous trembling or tremors. Tremors are a common symptom of any anxiety disorder. Since a phobia is a type of anxiety disorder, tremors can occur in any phobia as well, including dentophobia.
On the surface level, one can find it difficult to distinguish between nervous tremors and chills. The main difference is that, in case of chills, the individual feels cold. This does not happen for nervous tremors.
5. Dizziness or lightheadedness
In medical terms, dizziness means an impairment of orientation with respect to space. This means that an individual has no idea where he or she is present at that moment. The person may feel nauseous and lightheaded. His or her head may start spinning, and their vision becomes blurry.
A person with dentophobia may suddenly start feeling dizzy and lightheaded as soon as they enter the dentist’s chamber.
Nausea refers to an uneasiness of the body that accompanies a sudden urge to vomit. People with dentophobia may feel nauseated when they visit the dentist. In some cases, the individual may actually throw up as well.
This is a medical term for excessive sweating. People suffering from dentophobia may suddenly start sweating in excess amounts the moment they enter the dentist’s office.
8. Heart palpitations
Individuals suffering from any phobia, including dentophobia, may often experience heart palpitations when they face a fearful situation. In case of dentophobia, this fearful situation is visiting the dentist’s clinic.
Heart palpitations can be of several kinds. The exact feeling varies person to person, depending on the situation. Some people may feel that their heart is racing faster or pounding louder than usual.
Some others may feel that their heart has missed a beat or has an extra beat. In most cases, heart palpitations are not a serious issue. The affected person’s heartbeat returns to normal on its own.
Dyspnea means a shortness of breath. In case of individuals affected with dentophobia, visiting the dentist’s office may trigger this condition. The individual feels that he or she cannot breathe and gasp for air. In most cases, their breathing returns to normal soon.
Dyspepsia or stomach upset is also a common accompanying symptom when an individual faces an anxious situation. People with dentophobia may feel stomach cramps and the urge to go to the bathroom, as soon as they enter the dentist’s clinic.
Causes of Dentophobia
It is very hard to pinpoint the exact cause of any phobia with reasonable accuracy. Dentophobia is no exception. But we can still identify some potential risk factors that may lead to dentophobia.
Possible causes of dentophobia include the following:
1. Family history
According to psychologists, phobias often tend to be hereditary. This means that they are transmitted generation after generation through the descendant’s family. If an individual’s ancestors have had dentophobia, this increases the chances of that individual to experience dentophobia.
In psychology, modeling refers to the act of learning a behavior by observing someone else display that behavior. If an individual sees or hears someone else display extreme dentophobia, this may trigger dentophobia in them as well.
Suppose an individual goes to a clinic to get dental care. There, he or she witnesses someone else having a negative experience. This may trigger dentophobia in that person.
3. Self-consciousness due to poor oral hygiene
Some individuals can have excessive self-consciousness. This can be detrimental and lead to dentophobia. They may feel embarrassed for opening their mouth in front of the dentist. They may feel ashamed because of their bad breath or the bad condition of their teeth.
4. Feeling of helplessness
We know that whenever someone has to go to the clinic to get some dental work done, he or she would have to sit in the dentist’s chair and wait patiently.
Many individuals do not like this feeling of helplessness as one sits in that position with their mouth open. These people like to have control over their own self and their own body. According to them, they do not want to be left at the mercy of the dentist.
5. Past trauma
Bad experiences related to poor dental practice in the past can often lead to dentophobia. For example, someone has had a bad root canal surgery which caused them a lot of pain and left them bleeding from the mouth. That person may be hesitant to go to the dentist again. Over time, this hesitation and resentment can gradually develop into dentophobia.
6. Other phobias or fears
According to psychologists, one phobia can often lead to other kinds of phobias. In a similar way, the root cause of one phobia can be other phobias itself.
This principle applies to the case of dentophobia as well. Suppose someone has a fear of needles. This is called trypanophobia.
That individual may feel that if they go to the dentist, the dentist might inject some medicines or anesthetics through an injection needle. For this reason, they may be afraid to go to the dentist.
Some other phobias which can lead to dentophobia may include:
- Trypanophobia, a fear of needles
- Algophobia, the fear of experiencing excessive physical pain
- Iatrophobia, a fear of doctors
- Haphephobia, the fear of being touched by others
- Phagophobia, the fear of choking or being choked
- Emetophobia, a fear of vomiting
- Hemophobia, the fear of blood
- Odontophobia, a fear of teeth
This list is in no way an exhaustive one. There can be other phobias as well, which can lead to dentophobia.
As we have mentioned before, dentophobia is a type of specific phobia. This makes it an anxiety disorder. Psychologists treat any phobia using some form of psychotherapy. Sometimes, combining psychotherapy with the correct kind of medications makes the process of treatment more effective.
Let us now take a look at some common ways to overcome dentophobia.
1. Exposure therapy
According to psychologists, exposure therapy is the best and most effective way to overcome any phobia. In exposure therapy, the psychologist or psychotherapist starts to expose the patient to the triggering situation in a gradual manner.
The therapist or mental health professional first teaches the patient various breathing and muscle relaxation techniques. Using these techniques, the patient feels relaxed and at peace during the exposure sessions.
Then, the therapist begins the exposure by first showing the patient some visual cues. These visual cues include pictures or videos of people visiting the dentist. This kind of exposure occurs in a controlled environment, which is the therapist’s chamber. Thus, the patient feels that he or she can escape the stressful situation at any time. In this way, with the therapist’s help, the individual can learn to control his or her responses.
In the next step, the therapist shows the patient various things one can see in a dentist’s office, or different tools used by the dentist. Examples of these can be a tooth drilling machine, a scalpel, latex or rubber gloves, face masks, and tooth braces.
Once the individual becomes comfortable with these, the therapist then proceeds to the next step. The therapist asks the client to visit the dentist’s office without actually getting dental treatment. The patient can just ask for medical advice about how to maintain good oral hygiene.
The next step can be to proceed to have X-rays of their teeth taken, or just have a tooth cleanup. Proceeding step by step like this can help the individual get over their fear.
2. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
Many therapists often use cognitive behavior therapy along with exposure therapy. CBT is a goal-oriented and structured type of talk therapy. In most cases, CBT is used for treating mental disorders like depression, anxiety, etc. Since dentophobia is a particular type of anxiety disorder, using CBT can be effective in overcoming it.
Many people often debate about the use of hypnotherapy in any setting. According to many people, it is unethical. A large number of mental health professionals also claim that hypnotherapy is not a true form of therapy. But many studies have shown that hypnotherapy can be effective in treating phobia.
Through hypnotherapy, the therapist uses guided relaxation techniques that help to change the patient’s perception of the stressful situation. In this case, the stressful situation is a visit to the dentist’s office.
4. Relaxation techniques
According to many scientific studies, relaxation studies can be effective in reducing dentophobia among patients. Relaxation techniques can be of several types. Some of these include:
- Guided imagery: In this technique, a healthcare professional helps the patient to picturize or think about a very calm and relaxing situation in his or her imagination. The patient becomes so engrossed in this that they completely ignore what the dentist is doing.
- Deep breathing: This technique involves the patient practice long inhale and exhale cycles. This allows excess oxygen accumulation in the body. That, in turn, helps the body to relax naturally.
- Progressive relaxation: In this relaxation technique, the health professional teaches the patient to relax each muscle in their body, one at a time, in a progressive manner.
5. Sedation techniques
Sedation dentistry can be an effective way to make fearful patients feel comfortable. Many dentists can use mild sedatives or anesthetics to make sure that the patients do not feel any pain or discomfort.
These sedatives can include oral pills that the patient has to consume, or intravenous medication that is injected. But some patients, who have trypanophobia or a fear of needles, may not be comfortable with injections.
Laughing gas or nitrous oxide can also be a safe and effective anesthetic. Dentists mix nitrous oxide with oxygen and make the patient inhale it. This gas mixture relaxes the nervous system of the individual’s body. They then feel calm and comfortable throughout the duration of the entire dental procedure.
6. Distraction techniques
Many dentists often play movies or music in their chamber while they are performing a procedure. This helps to keep the patient distracted. But this technique will not work on people with extreme dental phobia.
Odontophobia vs. Dentophobia
The term ‘Odontophobia’ comes from the Greek word “odonto” which means teeth. So, in other words, Odontophobia refers to the fear of teeth.
On the other hand, as we have already mentioned before, dentophobia refers to a fear of dentists in general.
Now, for easier understanding of the subtle differences between these two terms, we can take a look at the table below.
|This is mainly caused when one sheds their teeth during childhood days. This kind of fear can also arise due to other reasons like traumatic experiences with the dentist, or a severe injury leading to loss of one or several teeth. |
People suffering from this kind of phobia often worry that they might lose a tooth while chewing food.
Such people also prefer eating food which is soft and chewy. In severe cases of Odontophobia, the sufferer may resort to consuming liquids only.
|This can be caused due to various reasons such as family history, past traumatic experiences related to dental care, or even due to modeled behavior.|
People suffering from this kind of phobia often avoid visiting dental clinics.
These people also experience various other symptoms like nausea, trembling, chills, etc.
In severe cases of dentophobia, sufferers might be experiencing an overwhelming amount of pain in their teeth or oral cavity but still choose to refrain from visiting a dentist.
Although some differences exist between these two terms, people often use the words interchangeably.
Treatment of Odontophobia also involves similar procedures as used in case of dentophobia, such as exposure therapy, hypnotherapy, etc.
Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’
In this article, we have taken a brief look at one of the most common but often-overlooked phobias, dentophobia. In simple terms, we can define dentophobia as a fear of visiting the dentist. We have also discussed the symptoms and causal factors of dentophobia.
One of the best methods of treating this phobia is exposure therapy. The key step is to find a dentist who understands that you have dentophobia. The dentist must be willing to help you overcome your fear.
A Psychologist with a master's degree in Psychology, a former school psychologist, and a teacher by profession Chandrani loves to live life simply and happily. She is an avid reader and a keen observer. Writing has always been a passion for her, since her school days. It helps to de-stress and keeps her mentally agile. Pursuing a career in writing was a chance occurrence when she started to pen down her thoughts and experiences for a few childcare and parenting websites. Her lovable niche includes mental health, parenting, childcare, and self-improvement. She is here to share her thoughts and experiences and enrich the lives of few if not many.