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Understanding dental anxiety and how you can cope with it

If you find yourself constantly cancelling your visits to the dentist, you may have dental anxiety. An expert explains why you shouldn't ignore it

Open discussions about dental anxiety are essential to break the stigma surrounding it.
Open discussions about dental anxiety are essential to break the stigma surrounding it. (Pexels/Gustavo Fring)

Dental anxiety is the overwhelming fear of dental procedures or visits. While most people find the idea of visiting the dentist inconvenient, there are a few whose fear is so severe, they suffer from odontophobia. Odontophobia is so real that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition listed it as a type of phobia. 

This might seem like just a fear of the dentist, but its effects run deeper, intertwining with a person's self-confidence and social life. The connection between dental anxiety, self-assurance, and social isolation is a complex web of emotions and experiences that significantly impacts one's sense of self and their interactions within society.

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Dental anxiety may stem from various sources like past traumatic dental experiences, fear of pain, or a general feeling of losing control during treatments. These fears often lead to dental neglect, where people skip or delay essential dental appointments, worsening their health concerns. Consequently, this neglect can result in dental issues that make them feel self-conscious and diminish their self-worth.

The repercussions of dental anxiety ripple throughout multiple facets of life, particularly affecting self-confidence. A smile which is a vital tool for social interaction, can become a source of distress rather than joy. People end up hiding their smiles or refrain from engaging in conversations, fearing judgment due to dental imperfections. This avoidance of social interactions gradually chips away at their confidence and leads to a cycle of isolation.

Furthermore, the impact of dental anxiety stretches beyond personal interactions. It infiltrates various aspects of life, including professional opportunities. The fear of being judged or rejected due to dental issues can hold individuals back from fully participating in many arenas, limiting their potential and opportunities for growth.

Ways to cope with dental anxiety
Addressing dental anxiety is crucial not only for oral health but also for rebuilding self-confidence and reconnecting with society. Techniques such as therapy, relaxation exercises, or slowly getting used to dental settings, lessen dental fears. A supportive dental environment where patients feel heard and respected can significantly decrease the distress associated with dental visits.

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Open discussions about dental anxiety are essential to break the stigma surrounding it. Understanding what to expect eases and lessens the fear of the unknown. Techniques like deep breathing or guided imagery help in calming the patients before and during the procedure. Moreover, gradual exposure to the dental setting helps people feel more comfortable over time.

Distraction techniques, like listening to music or using virtual reality, also help people to divert their attention from the procedure itself, reducing anxiety. A calming atmosphere within the dental office, combined with positive reinforcement empowers the otherwise nervous patient.

Ultimately, addressing dental anxiety isn't just about fixing teeth; it's about restoring confidence and enabling people to engage more confidently in social interactions. It is important to acknowledge and support those dealing with dental anxiety. After all, a smile empowers people to fully participate and enjoy their social life. 

Dr. Karishma Jaradi is head dental surgeon at Dentzz Dental, Mumbai.

Also read: How ultra-processed foods are linked to mouth cancer risk


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