Fear of the dentist is quite common, but to what degree? Most of us do not love going to the dentist, but for some, this goes beyond just feeling uncomfortable. It is important to understand, that if your fears are keeping you from seeing a dentist on a regular basis, you may need to assess your level of fear and understand what can be done to overcome it. Your dental health is extremely important to your overall health. The only way you can achieve optimum dental health requires you seeing a dentist routinely. Read on to see which category you feel describes your level of dental unease.
Level 1 – Dental Anxiety
This initial stage includes anxiousness prior to your dental appointment along with worry that the dentist might find something that needs further treatment. You are nervous and uncomfortable while waiting for your appointment. Sitting in the dental chair is nerve wracking and you find it difficult to concentrate and all you can think about is having the appointment over and done with.
Level 2 – Dental Fear
You feel increased anxiety several days before going to the dental office for your appointment. Your sleep quality is poor and your appetite is decreased so much so that you may be too nervous to eat on the day of your appointment. You may have physical effects on your body like frequent loose bowel movements. Your palms may be sweaty, your mouth dry. You need to reassure yourself constantly to overcome the urge to cancel your appointment. You hope that perhaps the dentist will cancel or run behind or that you may not need anything done. You may actually feel upset with yourself afterwards for getting so worried over nothing.
Level 3 – Panic
You begin dreading the dental visits more and more, feeling nausea or have panic attacks when the dentist is even mentioned. You begin to get anxious months before the appointment. You attend only when you need to and will readily cancel at the last minute for any reason. You feel sick and anxious inside as soon as you think about the dentist. You feel angry and stressed if you are kept waiting. You often behave in a way that is not normal for you. You avoid having any dental treatment done if possible and often attend for advice only. When treatment is offered you come up with an excuse not to have it done. You are very alert during your visit watching constantly for any “surprises” that might be introduced. You are beginning to feel anxious even when someone else is the patient such as a child or spouse. You feel an overwhelming sense of relief at the end of your appointment even if the problem has not been solved and may find yourself tired overcome with a tired feeling after your appointment.
Level 4 – Overwhelmed
You will begin to describe yourself as having a “dental phobia”. You will only keep your appointments if absolutely necessary. You feel panic when others discuss the dentist around you. You feel nauseous and faint even when other people discuss their dental visits in your company. You remember all the “scary dentist stories” you have been told to justify not keeping your dental appointment. Picking up the phone to call the dentist would instill an extreme amount of fear. You may be tearful and fret about the possibility of developing a toothache or needing and kind of dental treatment. You may begin to neglect your mouth and dental hygiene as even brushing your teeth can bring on the dental fear. You will repeatedly go to your family doctor about dental matters and often continually take antibiotics to relieve dental symptoms. When you have to go to a dentist, you will only see a dentist who provides sedation, and insist on having a general anesthetic if possible. You will most likely need to be accompanied in order to get to the dentist appointment. You will make every possible excuse to miss your appointment. You may leave the waiting room and pace around outside. If you do make it in to see your dentist you may feel helpless and powerless, and end up sobbing with fear. You may even faint in the dentist’s office. You find it impossible to accept reassurance from the dentist and you find it difficult to listen to what anyone including the dentist says or suggests. You feel like you are on red alert all the time and often have physiological expressions of increased adrenaline production with your heart racing , palms sweating and throat dry . Your mind is constantly preoccupied with getting out of the chair. Some people report finding it difficult to breath, or swallow. You often do things which you know are irresponsible, like grabbing the dentists hand, or sitting up suddenly. You feel embarrassed about your behavior but you don’t care as long as you get out of there. You are not worried about the next time, or still needing the work done, or any other logic, you just want to focus on getting out of there today. You may have a sense of being a “difficult patient”,and may be fully aware it is stressful for those trying to help you, but you don’t care, you just want out. Your mouth may be a cause of embarrassment, your situation begins to affect your confidence in other areas of life.
Level 5 – Avoidance
Many of your waking hours are spent worrying about the dentist. You worry about coming across it in the newspapers you read, or television shows you watch, as you feel unwell at even the thought of dentistry. Often you haven’t been to the dentist for many, many years, and sometimes you have never been at all. You may have a history of traumatic appointments. Your mouth often needs extensive work and is often the source of great shame. The shame can make you feel low and flat. Smiling can be difficult. You will avoid driving past or near a dental office, and will react with full blown panic when people talk about the dentist in your presence. You have often fought with loved ones and tried hopelessly to overcome the problem. You often tolerate severe dental pain rather than seek out dental treatment. It is beyond logic, you know this yourself, but you cannot bring yourself to goto the dentist. Your teeth deteriorate further and your dental appearance can force people stay indoors and avoid social situations at all. Any emergency treatment is carried out under general anesthetic. Even though the risks, of general anesthetic have been explained fully, you find it preferable. Individuals who suffer from dental phobia at this level often describe the panic felt as “feeling like they were dying”. You will physically fight treatment and often strike out at those attempting to sedate or anesthetize you, although this is embarrassing, it is preferable to experiencing the fear. This problem often becomes so grave, that it seems to affect every single aspect of your life. People often describe a feeling of helplessness. When asked what they would like to change most about themselves they often say they would love to go to the dentist just like the average person and have their smile restored.
Understanding and accepting your level of anxiety is a great start. You have now realized that you are not alone. There are many therapies which can help you to move back down the ladder of fear and enable you to seek the treatment you need. The first step is to make a phone call to a dentist specializing in dental phobia. You can then set up an appointment for a discussion about your fear level. You and your dentist can work together to find what will work best for you. You will build a trust and confidence you never thought possible!