What Are the Consequences of Dental Phobia?

Dentophobia (the fear of visiting the dentist) can cause significant issues for your dental health. It can lead to a vicious cycle of poor oral hygiene, leading to gum disease and other serious issues.

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The main causes of dental anxiety are past traumatic experiences, usually in childhood. Other triggers include hearing loved ones describe negative experiences, or seeing harrowing images on TV or in movies.

Poor Oral Health

When fear and anxiety interfere with dental visits, it can lead to poor oral health. This can result in cavities, gum disease, and even tooth loss. A person can develop these problems due to an untreated or delayed visit, but also due to a lack of oral hygiene or poor eating habits.

Studies have shown that a person’s level of fear or anxiety about going to the dentist can be influenced by several factors, including age, gender, education level, and socioeconomic status. For example, people who are poorer tend to have lower levels of dental health and less frequent visits to the dentist. These factors can contribute to the development of dental phobia and may be difficult to overcome.

In addition, there is evidence that a person’s dental anxiety is influenced by their family members. This is particularly true for children, who learn from their parents and siblings how to deal with dentists. In fact, a child who has many positive experiences visiting the dentists will not be as fearful when they eventually need to have their teeth cleaned, which is often called latent inhibition.

Psychological treatment for dental anxiety or phobia can be very effective in reducing the symptoms and improving oral health. The model used at the Dental Fear Research and Treatment Center (DFRTC) in Sweden, for example, involves a therapist who is trained in CBT and includes a maximum of eight individual 50-min sessions.

Social Stigma

Social stigma is a negative social attitude attached to a person that can unfairly lead to discrimination and exclusion. It can also affect an individual’s self-esteem and make them feel ashamed of their condition. Stigma can also make it harder for people to seek help.

For example, some people who have Dental phobia may feel embarrassed to disclose their fears of the dentist and hide the symptoms from others. This can cause the condition to deteriorate further, resulting in bad oral health. For example, small cavities may turn into rotten teeth that need extensive and costly dental work to fix. Similarly, gum disease can progress into serious infection and other complications.

Some individuals with Dental phobia can have severe depression or other mental health disorders that make it difficult for them to accept their condition. They may be unable to believe that their fears are reasonable, or they might be able to control their fears by using coping strategies such as denial or avoiding the situation. As a result, they may avoid seeking medical treatment for their condition and suffer from poorer health over time.

Individuals with Dental phobia can get help by consulting a psychologist who is experienced in the use of CBT for anxiety and depression. A psychologist can provide a tailored treatment plan that focuses on the core CBT techniques of exposure (gradual exposure to anxiety-provoking situations and objects while experiencing the anxiety with the psychologist’s support until the reactions typically diminish), applied relaxation, and cognitive restructuring.

Medical Illness

Dental anxiety can lead to poor oral health as people delay seeking treatment. This can result in serious oral conditions, such as gum disease and missing teeth. It can also have other consequences, such as poor nutrition, smoking and alcohol consumption that can affect the general health of the individual.

Dental phobia is more common in females than males, but researchers are not sure why this is the case. Factors such as genetics, age and culture may be relevant to the etiology of dental phobia.

People with dental phobia often fear the feeling of needles in their mouth, the sound of a drill and the smells of the dentist’s office. They may also be worried about being embarrassed by their poor oral hygiene or the appearance of their teeth.

There are several treatments for a fear of the dentist, including cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. In cognitive behavioral therapy, the therapist helps the patient identify their fears and develop new ways to cope. Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing the patient to images and situations that trigger their anxiety. It can be done at a dental clinic or in a mental health setting, with a psychologist or therapist. Patients can also use breathing and relaxation techniques to help them feel less stressed. Sedation, such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or medication taken by mouth or intravenously, can also be used to ease anxiety during treatments.

Infections

People with dental phobia are at increased risk of infections. This is because they delay dental treatment until the disease reaches an advanced stage. It can then be difficult to treat and may cause additional medical problems including a reduced quality of life (OHR QoL). An infection is caused when germs enter the body and multiply, causing illness or disease. Some infections are spread by direct contact from one person to another. Examples of this include scabies, headlice and ringworm. Other infections are spread through contaminated food, water or objects such as door handles and toilet flush handles. These include hepatitis A, gastro-intestinal infections and Shiga Toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).

Dental anxiety and phobia are often linked with a traumatic past experience relating to dentistry. This may be a painful procedure as a child, an invasive procedure or negative associations with the dentist themselves. People with dentophobia are often extremely anxious at the thought of a visit to the dentist and may cry or have nightmares. They might avoid dental visits or even refuse treatment, which can lead to poor oral health and other physical problems.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that patients with dental anxiety will become more anxious at the prospect of visiting a clinical service due to their perceived risk of infection. This may be exacerbated by their broader apprehension of receiving clinical care in general, as well as the fear of contracting COVID-19 itself.