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If you skip going to the dentist, you’re not alone. Many people make dental visits a low or non-priority, in spite of all the information out there about the importance of regular visits for good dental health. However, research shows that between 9% and 20% of Americans avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear, based on phobias. Studies further show that people with dental phobia have an awareness that the fear is totally irrational, but are unable to do much about it. They exhibit classic avoidance behavior; that is, they will do everything possible to avoid going to the dentist. People with dental phobia usually go to the dentist only when forced to do so by extreme pain.

Examining dental phobias

There are many documented reasons for why some people have dental phobia and anxiety. Studies show that some of the common reasons include:

Fear of pain. Fear of pain is a very common reason for avoiding the dentist. This fear usually stems from an early dental experience, perhaps in childhood, that was traumatic or painful. However, thanks to the many advances in dentistry made over the years, most of today’s dental procedures are considerably less painful or even pain-free.

Fear of injections, or fear the injection won’t work. Many people are terrified of needles, especially when inserted into their mouth. Beyond this fear, others fear that the anesthesia hasn’t yet taken effect, or wasn’t a large enough dose to eliminate any pain before the dental procedure begins.

Fear of anesthetic side effects. Some people report a fear of the potential side effects of anesthesia such as dizziness, feeling faint, or nausea. Others don’t like the numbness or “fat lip” associated with local anesthetics.

Feelings of helplessness and loss of control. It’s common for people to feel these emotions considering the situation of sitting in a dental chair with your mouth wide open, unable to see what’s going on.

Embarrassment and loss of personal space. Many people feel uncomfortable about the physical closeness of the dentist or hygienist to their face. Others may feel self-conscious about the appearance of their teeth or possible mouth odors.

Modern dental techniques have been created to put the patient within as maximum a comfort zone as possible, and fortunately, there are ways to get people with dental anxiety and dental phobia to the dentist. The key to coping with dental anxiety is to discuss your fears with your dentist. Once your dentist knows what your fears are, he or she will be better able to work with you to determine the best

ways to make you less anxious and more comfortable. If your dentist doesn’t take your fear seriously, definitely find another dentist.

If lack of control is one of your main stressors, actively participating in a discussion with your dentist about your treatment can ease your tension. Ask your dentist to explain what’s happening at every stage of the procedure. That way, you can mentally prepare for what’s to come. Another helpful strategy is to establish a signal, such as raising your hand, when you want the dentist to immediately stop. Use this signal whenever you’re uncomfortable, or need to rinse your mouth, or simply need to catch your breath.