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Dental Phobia

 While a trip to the dentist typically isn't painful, many of us experience a strong fear - often called "dental phobia" - of doing so. Most of us have some level of anxiety about going to the dentist, but those with dental phobia are often terrified at the thought - and as a result, many avoid dental care altogether. Some people are so intensely frightened of the dentist that they will put up with just about any dental issue - pain, a foul mouth, tooth discoloration, or even broken and misaligned teeth - to avoid going. Since the potential negative impacts of this are enormous, we should try to break down some of the stigma of going to the dentist and make it a more universally tolerated experience.

A phobia is an intense fear that we know deep down to be irrational. Just like many know that spiders are generally harmless but fear them anyway, many of us know intuitively that our dental work will likely be painless and simple, but still live in dread of it. As a result, we often delay or outright avoid dental care.

You know the feeling: your dental checkup is approaching, giving you a sense of unease and mild anxiety. Will it hurt? Will my dentist find horrible dental problems that will require painful, invasive treatments down the road? Those with dental phobia have a more profound, often exaggerated sense of fear. But, speaking frankly, should they, here in the 21st Century? Let's examine:

Causes of Dental Anxiety and Phobia: A dental phobia may develop from any number of originating factors, but there are some very common ones:

Pain - Many of us grew up in the days of more primitive, pain-inducing dentistry. We carry around memories of tooth drilling and root canal therapy before the days of advanced anesthesia and smarter instrumentation. But in modern dentistry, pain shouldn't be much of a concern. The dental profession has improved mightily in terms of pain management, and today many more intensive procedures are performed with full or near-full anesthesia.

That helpless feeling — A very common phobia is that of lack of control, of being restrained by an outside person or force. This manifests in the dental chair, where patients need to be still and allow another person to probe and inspect their mouth. As a result, many feel dread at every flick of the dentist's wrist. But relaxation techniques can help a frightened patient to realize that the dentist is a professional and has no intention of causing unnecessary discomfort.

Embarrassment — The mouth is not a body part we routinely showcase to others, and also one we associate closely with uncleanness, so there can be some level of shame or embarrassment when a stranger examines it. Some of us are self-conscious about the health and attractiveness of our mouths, so we actively avoid dental work. Again, however, it can help tremendously to bear in mind that your dentist is a professional, and that the human mouth is no more than a canvas to inspect and treat, like any doctor would.

Memory lane - Dental work is typically painless, but many of us have had at least one painful or uncomfortable trip to a dentist. These memories can shape our view of dental work, but it's important to remember two things:
1. The past does not dictate the future, and
2. Dental care is necessary, and ignoring it only leads to more serious problems - and more intensive treatments - down the road.

If you feel you have a strong, perhaps irrational phobia of the dentist, share these concerns with your dental professional. He or she is aware of this phenomenon and can help to relieve your anxiety. (In fact, for those with severe phobias, a mental health professional may be referred.) Remember: your dentist is human too, with fears and concerns for his or her own well-being. Most dentists will likely be sympathetic and treat you with the gentility and respect you need to feel better. 03