Dentophobia (Fear of Dentists)
Dentophobia is the irrational fear of dentists. Someone suffering from this condition will find it extremely difficult to virtually impossible for them to visit their dentist. The mere thought of it will give them a very high amount of anxiety that will raise their heart rate and put them in a fight or flight state of mind. People suffering from such an ailment can be a serious problem as dental hygiene is very important, especially preventative care.
Someone with dentophobia may be able to coherently rationalize that their fear is out of touch with reality, but when in the midst of a dentist, they will be unable to think in such a logical way. The intense amount of dread they will experience will overpower their ability to think calmly and rationally about the issue at hand.
As is the case with most anxiety disorders, people with dentophobia will often try to avoid what it is that gives them anxiety, this of course being dentists, dentist offices, etc. It is important to note that people suffering from full blown dentophobia may not necessarily have an aversion to cleaning their teeth, but rather they have an intense, irrational fear that the dentist will harm them whether purposefully or accidentally.
Depending on the severity of the individual’s symptoms, their fear of dentists may be so extreme and intruding that they may even experience full blown panic attacks which may result in them needing to be hospitalized. Though this may be a rare occurrence, it is still possible to happen.
Symptoms of Dentophobia
Someone suffering from full blown dentophobia will experience great amounts of anxiety when around dentists and even when merely thinking of them. Their intense fear of dentists may motivate them to avoid them at all costs. This may come at a price as seeing your dentist regularly is very important for overall dental hygiene and to help prevent/treat cavities. This cannot be effectively done by avoiding one’s dentist.
In some extreme cases, someone with dentophobia may even choose to move to an area where there are no dentist clinics nearby to limit their chance of laying eyes on one, thus reducing their anxiety. Also, though not a direct symptom of dentophobia, but an indirect one, someone suffering from an irrational fear of dentists may also develop cavities and other dental issues due to them not seeing their dentists regularly, if at all.
Below, you will see some more common symptoms of dentophobia:
Anxiety when near a dentist
Anxiety when thinking of dentists
Unable to cope with their fear
Muscle tension, shakiness, and sweating
May experience panic attacks
Causes of Dentophobia
There are no known causes of dentophobia. However, genetics and one’s environment may both play very significant roles in the the development of this disorder. For instance, someone who has a family history of mental illness, especially of phobias, may have a higher chance of developing an irrational fear of dentists. Such a risk factor may be due to them also having a higher chance of being genetically predisposed to developing mental illness in general.
If someone were to have such a genetic predisposition, then it may only take some sort of traumatic event for them to develop full blown dentophobia. For example, a child going to the dentist for the first time may be very traumatizing for them as they may not be able to handle the scraping, picking, and overall oddness involved with a stranger (the dentist) inspecting the inside of one’s mouth with sharp/pointed tools.
However, this condition is not limited to only children as it is also very plausible for a young adult to develop it as well. For example, a young adult getting a tooth pulled, a root canal, or some other very uncomfortable oral surgery can be very traumatizing indeed. With the right genetic makeup, such experiences may be enough for someone to develop full blown dentophobia.
Though we do not definitively know what causes any given phobia to develop, there is a consensus among most mental health professionals that both genetics and one’s environment play very pertinent roles. So, taking a closer look at these two different parameters may shed some light as to whether or not you are at risk for developing dentophobia.
Dentophobia Treatments (abridged)
Exposure therapy may be one of the best treatment methods for someone suffering from an irrational fear of dentists. In fact, exposure therapy is one of the most common forms of treatment for people suffering from most phobias. This form of treatment works by having the therapist slowly expose the patient to their fear over a given period of time. Though this will give the patient an influx of unwanted anxiety, the more they are exposed to their fear, the less it will bother them over time, theoretically.
So, with regards to dentophobia, the therapist can implement exposure therapy by having the patient look at pictures or videos of a dentist working. Though this may not sound like it would cause much anxiety, for someone with dentophobia it likely would depending on the severity of their condition. The goal of exposure therapy would be to eventually desensitize the patient to their fear of dentists so much so that they would be able to visit their dentist for a teeth cleaning without panicking or fainting.
Besides exposure therapy, anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants may be able to help reduce one’s symptoms as well. However, it may not be very effective to merely take medication without any form of therapy with hopes of long term improvement. Nevertheless, this is something that should first be discussed with you and your doctor before you take any action or inaction.
If you think you may have dentophobia or if you are suffering from some of the symptoms described in this article, then you should talk to your doctor as soon as you can so that you can be properly diagnosed and treated. Upon seeing your doctor, she may refer you to see a specialist such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist for further treatment.
Exposure Therapy for Dentophobia
As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as dentophobia. It can be an efficient way to help desensitize the patient to their specific fears. Be that as it may, it is imperative that the therapist implementing it on their patient is very adept at doing so. For example, if the therapist were to slightly expose someone with dentophobia to their fear, then it may not be very effective as they may need a higher amount of exposure to truly trigger any sort of worthwhile change in the patient.
The same can be said for the antithesis of this scenario. If the therapist were to excessively expose someone with dentophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their dentophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with dentophobia has a very strong sense of just how severe their symptoms are so that they can know the level of exposure that the patient will likely be able to handle.
Working Out for Dentophobia
Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including dentophobia. Specifically, cardiovascular exercise can significantly help to relieve one’s stress. This is not to say that weight-resistance training would not benefit someone with anxiety, but rather that aerobic exercise is has been shown to be more effective at releasing those feel good chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins.
According to the American Psychology Association, exercise can help to condition the mind to better cope with stressful situations. This makes sense when we take into consideration the high amount of stress that the body is put under during strenuous exercise. So, if you yourself are sedentary, then engaging in some form of aerobic exercise may be able to significantly help reduce your symptoms of dentophobia by making it much easier for you to cope with the anxiety and stress that’s associated with this condition.
There are many different aerobic modalities that you can partake in to help reduce your symptoms of dentophobia, such as swimming, biking, skiing, walking, and jogging. You can also acquire the many benefits of exercise by playing sports such as tennis, soccer, basketball, and racquetball, among many other sports. Engaging in some form of exercise consistently may be able to help relieve some of the pain associated with dentophobia over time.
Yoga Sessions for Dentophobia
There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from dentophobia. In part, this is due to the meditative state of mind that yoga tends to emit in those who practice it on a consistent basis. Yoga can be thought of as meditation in motion. It can help to relieve some of the anxiety associated with dentophobia due to the mere fact that by engaging in yoga, your attention will be redirected to something more productive.
There are many different types of yoga that someone with dentophobia can benefit from, such as hatha yoga or hot yoga, among many others. Nevertheless, regardless of the many different forms of yoga that exist, virtually all of them can help to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that is associated with dentophobia.
If you have never practiced yoga before, then it may be in your best interest to take a class or watch some guided videos that can help you through each pose. Just like with meditation, the more you practice yoga, the more adept you will become at it. Besides helping you to reduce your symptoms of dentophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Dentophobia
MBSR is an 8-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, and other sorts of mental anguish. MBSR may be able to significantly help someone who is suffering from dentophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with dentophobia can expect to learn a plethora of different skills that can help them to relieve the intense anxiety that’s associated with their specific phobia.
Talk to your doctor or therapist to see if MBSR can help you to reduce the intensity of your symptoms of dentophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.
Psychiatric Medications for Dentophobia
These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe dentophobia due to the fact that people with phobias often experience panic attacks as well. Some common anti-anxiety medications include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, among many others.
These types of drugs are not typically taken on a daily basis, but they may be insofar as their dentophobia is severe enough. However, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor before you decide to do so to ensure that it is safe and effective.
These types of medications aren’t only for people who suffer from depression as they can also help people suffering from anxiety disorders as well, such as dentophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of dentophobia.
These types of drugs are typically taken on a daily basis. They can indeed help prevent panic attacks from occurring, but they are more so used to help reduce people’s daily anxiety. Talk to your doctor to see if taking antidepressants can help to reduce your symptoms of dentophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Dentophobia
CBT is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve one’s mental health. It is a modality that is often used to treat people suffering from anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and OCD. Someone with dentophobia may also be able to benefit from CBT as well seeing as how it would allow them to have a much better understanding as to why they think and behave the way they do in relation to their irrational fears.
CBT can be immensely helpful for someone with dentophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with dentophobia is exposed to their fear, they will almost always have an instantaneous subconscious reaction to their fear. Such a lack of introspection is likely a large part of why someone with this condition will suffer to the extent that they will. CBT can help you to take a step back and analyze your fears more deeply than you typically would.
Besides learning to be more fastidious with regards to understanding one’s specific fears, someone with dentophobia engaging in CBT can also expect to learn various other skills aimed at helping to relieve the anxiety caused by their condition.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Dentophobia
DBT is a very effective form of treatment for people struggling with emotion regulation. It is often used to treat people suffering from borderline personality disorder. Nevertheless, it can also be very advantageous for someone suffering from anxiety disorders like dentophobia too. This is due to the numerous amount of coping skills you can expect to learn in a DBT group. These groups typically last about 6 months long and can have anywhere from two people to several people depending on how many join the group.
One very effective DBT skill for helping someone with dentophobia is half-smiling. This technique works by having you think about that which you fear or upsets you all while slightly raising the corners of your mouth by lightly smiling, thus the term “half-smiling.” Although, it isn’t enough to just think about your fear while half-smiling, you also have to try and refrain from entertaining those painful emotions that your specific fear may evoke.
Mindfulness meditation is also heavily used in DBT and can greatly benefit someone with dentophobia as it is done in a group setting, which helps to put the patient out of their comfort zone. These group mindfulness practices may include drinking warm tea to hone in on the sense of taste and tactile senses or simply focusing on the breath.
Coping ahead is another very useful DBT skill that can help someone with dentophobia. With coping ahead, you will want to find a place where you can sit down quietly without distraction. Close your eyes and then think about the many different possible scenarios where you would face your specific fear and overcome it or cope with it. Doing so will help you to be much better adept at coping with your dentophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.
Meditation Practice for Dentophobia
There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from dentophobia. Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be quite beneficial for helping people to enter into a more equanimeous state. There are many different ways with which you can implement mindfulness meditation and there are also many different meditation apps which are designed to make things as easy as possible for you.
Mindfulness has the potential to significantly help those suffering from dentophobia due to how it will help one to distract themselves from their fear by refocusing their attention onto something else that does not have any sort of emotional baggage attached to it, such as by focusing on the breath for example. This is one of the most basic ways that one can meditate and be present.
For someone with dentophobia in the midst of a panic attack, redirecting one’s attention to the various sensations felt when breathing can actually help to reduce the amount of mental anguish experienced during such an influx of anxiety.
To implement mindfulness meditation to help relieve one’s symptoms of dentophobia, you can do so by paying close attention to the way the muscles in your abdomen and chest contract and relax with every inhale and exhale. You can spend time dwelling on how it feels as your chest expands during each inhale and how it sinks in with every exhale.
Besides focusing on your breathing, you can also focus on the sounds around you, the way your skin feels as you touch certain objects, the way foods taste, as well as the way certain aromas smell. Essentially, honing into your 5 senses can significantly help you to reduce some of the anxiety that is associated with dentophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.
Control Caffeine Consumption for Dentophobia
It is no secret that consuming large amounts of caffeine throughout the day can aid in making you more anxious. This makes sense when we look closely at how caffeine affects our body’s physiology. When we consume a high dose of caffeine, our heart will start to beat faster and we become more tense. Essentially, our body will begin to go into a “fight or flight” state of mind. Such a frame of mind is often a precursor for someone with dentophobia to experience panic attacks.
So, consuming little to no caffeine throughout the day may be able to significantly help reduce your day to day anxiety. Although doing so will likely not make all of your anxiety go away, it will indeed help you to reduce any unnecessary suffering that you would have otherwise experienced if you were to consume a large amount of caffeine.
Beverages like coffee and tea are often high in caffeine, as well as some energy drinks. In fact, even some foods have caffeine in them as well, such as dark chocolate. Being more conscious of your daily caffeine consumption may help you to reduce some of the symptoms associated with dentophobia.