It’s human nature to avoid doing things that we find confronting or scary. We all know what it’s like to put something off again and again, because we simply can’t bear the thought of doing it. Even if our rational mind tells us to ‘just do it’ and that it won’t be that bad, our emotional brain is louder, preventing us from taking action.
I have seen this time and time again over the course of my career among patients with dental anxiety. I’ve had patients whose oral health has suffered greatly due to delaying and putting off dental treatments. Often these patients have put up with significant discomfort and pain for years to avoid having to go to the dentist. It’s not for a lack of concern for their teeth, it’s just that the thought of visiting the dentist is all too overwhelming.
The first thing I want these patients to know is that they’re not alone. Not a day goes by where I don’t meet someone who experiences dental fear in some capacity. In fact, dental anxiety is so common that studies have found more than 60 per cent of people suffer from dental fear. In Australia, almost one in three adults with high dental fear has not visited a dentist in more than 10 years.
Many dentally anxious patients may have poorer overall dental health as a result of their avoidant behaviours. This is called ‘the vicious cycle of dental fear’ where people who put off dental visits have worsening problems that eventually require more significant treatments down the track. Numerous studies have found a strong link between dental anxiety and having significantly more cavities and tooth decay.
This is why addressing dental fear is an incredibly important step to improving oral health.
It’s important to understand that ‘dental anxiety’ is not just a blanket concept that can be applied to everyone. The origins of dental fear are rooted in unique experiences for each individual and as a result they manifest in completely different ways. For example, a person may remember a traumatic dental treatment they had as a child and consequently expect every dental treatment to be the same.
A person who has experienced a head and neck injury may be retraumatised by any treatment to this area and avoid visiting the dentist entirely. For other individuals, the cause may be less obvious, yet they still experience a strong stress reaction to the sights and sounds of being at the dentist and go into fight or flight mode as soon as they sit down in the chair.
Dental anxiety doesn’t need an explanation, or a clear cause. Instead it needs empathy and compassion, combined with a treatment plan that is tailored to the individual.
At Integrated Dental Health we understand that dental anxiety is emotionally rooted and completely unique to the individual. Our priority is to help our patients overcome their dental anxiety by creating a safe and comfortable environment that addresses their fears, whatever they may be.
One of the most important things for dental anxiety sufferers is to be empowered to make choices about their own treatment. A lack of choice and control can really exacerbate feelings of fear and can trigger some of the more acute symptoms of dental anxiety.
Our approach is therefore to ensure we’re giving our patients as many options as possible, to make the best decisions for their treatments. We offer a full comfort menu designed to ease dental anxiety, including:
Our comfort menu also includes noise cancelling headphones and heated neck and eye pillows to help block out some of the sensory triggers people find unsettling at the dentist.
As with any health discipline, it’s essential we look at the patient as a ‘whole person.’
Dental fear and phobia does not just affect the mind, but is deeply entrenched within the body and often triggers many physical symptoms. We’ve all experienced that rush of adrenaline after a frightening experience, where our hearts start racing, our palms sweat, and our minds go blank. Dental fear is a ‘whole body’ experience which is why we take a multidisciplinary approach to treating it.
We work alongside naturopaths, dieticians, kinesiologists, chiropractors, reiki specialists and even work with genome healing for addressing past trauma, as well as hypnosis for dental phobia. By working across disciplines, we can take a holistic view of the person and implement a treatment plan that encompasses their needs for both body and mind.
We want people who suffer from dental anxiety and fear to understand that there are so many options available to them to help make a trip to the dentist a more manageable experience.
By normalising these fears and empowering patients to choose the right treatment approach for their specific needs, we can tackle dental anxiety head on and put people on the right path when it comes to their dental health.