Are you dental phobic?
One of the biggest problems for dental phobics in the past was that their phobia was dismissed as fear. People thought that everybody was afraid of the dentist and nobody liked a visit to their local dental practice. In fact, the practices themselves were never really designed to be welcoming or to make patients feel comfortable. It was just something we all had to do.
Therefore, many people who suffer from dentophobia often do not realise themselves that their condition is recognised and capable of treatment. Instead, they develop their own coping strategies which normally involve avoiding dental work and hoping that their teeth can look after themselves. This leads to inevitable problems.
Identifying, diagnosing and talking about a phobia is usually the first step towards overcoming it.
How can I diagnose my phobia?
In many ways, if you’ve read this far, you already have. If you live in fear of visiting the dentist and avoid treatment at all costs, then you should consider yourself dental phobic.
The first step for most dental phobic patients is to arrange an appointment with their dentist. Yes, you did read that correctly. While this may sound to most phobics as though you are being asked to walk into the lion’s den, it is nothing of the sort.
Nowadays, the majority of dentists are trained to cope with dental phobics and have a number of strategies to help you. In most cases, this starts with an appointment at the dentist that does not involve treatment. You won’t even have to get in the dental chair. The sole purpose of this appointment is to get to know your dentist, to explain how you feel and to discuss together whether there is a type of treatment that you will feel comfortable about.
How does this help?
For many dental phobics, this kind of consultative approach helps to break down many of the barriers that they associate with dental work. For people who have not been to the dentist since childhood, the dentist may have, in their imagination, become an unapproachable, inhuman figure who they associate with pain. Just meeting your dentist and having an adult conversation helps to overcome this sort of perception.
Of course, there are many different types of dental phobia and a simple conversation will not be enough to help everyone. However, it will normally form the beginning of a long-term strategy to return you to the dentist and help you receive the treatment you need.
What else can I do?
Not everybody who suffers from dental phobia has the same kind of fear. While some people are simply afraid of the dentist, others are more afraid of the pain, of needles, of the drill, or of the anaesthetic. These sorts of people may need more than a conversation with their dentist to put them at their ease.
Having said that, meeting your dentist should probably still be your first port of call. A conversation with your dentist may help you to understand you phobia better, even if it cannot help you completely overcome it.
For example, some patients who are dental phobic have never really investigated what it is that they don’t like about the dentist. By talking with your dentist, you can perhaps begin to identify what the stimuli of your phobia actually are.
As mentioned, it could be a fear of the drill. In that case, you may be able to agree with your dentist to undergo regular check-ups as long as there is no drilling work involved. Of course, you will still have to negotiate your fear of the drill in future. But at least, in the meantime, you will be receiving the basic dental work you need to keep your teeth, mouth and gums healthy.
Who else can I talk to?
What if you can’t talk to your dentist? There could be a number of reasons for this. It could be that your phobia is so acute, you can’t bring yourself to. We’ll come back to that in a minute. On the other hand, it could simply be that your current dentist is not right for you. After all, if you don’t feel comfortable enough to talk to your dentist, it is not surprising that you don’t feel comfortable enough to let him or her treat you.
Many dental phobics tend to assume that it is simply dental work that they do not like and that every practice is the same. This is not necessarily true. Different patients respond to different dentists. If you are dental phobic, it may help to try and find a dentist who has experience of dealing with phobic patients. Alternatively, it may simply be that a different practice, with different surroundings and a different atmosphere, will help you to relax more. Many of the more modern practices place much more emphasis on creating a welcoming and comfortable environment.
Don’t forget, you aren’t just a patient. You’re a customer too – so it makes sense to shop around until you find somewhere that suits you.
Finally, if visiting a dentist is too difficult for you, you could try visiting a counsellor or therapist. Many have experience of dealing with dental phobics and can recommend alternative types of therapies. For example, many patients who suffer from breathlessness, anxiety or stress benefit from hypnosis or reflexology.