Dental fear refers to the fear of dentistry and of receiving dental care. A severe form of this fear (specific phobia) is variously called dental phobia, odontophobia, dentophobia, dentist phobia, or dental anxiety. However, it has been suggested not to use the term "dental phobia" for people who do not feel their fears to be excessive or unreasonable and resemble individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by previous traumatic dental experiences.
Treatments for dental fear often include a combination of behavioral and pharmacological techniques. Specialized dental fear clinics use both psychologists and dentists to help people learn to manage and decrease their fear of dental treatment. The goal of these clinics is to provide individuals with the fear management skills necessary for them to receive regular dental care with a minimum of fear or anxiety. While specialized clinics exist to help individuals manage and overcome their fear of dentistry, they are rare. Many dental providers outside of such clinics use similar behavioral and cognitive strategies to help patients reduce their fear.
Many people who suffer from dental fear may be successfully treated with a combination of "look, see, do" and gentle dentistry. People fear what they don't understand and they also, logically, dislike pain. If someone has had one or more painful past experiences in a dental office then their fear is completely rational and they should be treated supportively. Non-graphic photographs taken pre-operatively, intra-operatively and post-operatively can explain the needed dentistry. Pharmacologic management may include an anxiety-reducing medication taken in a pill, intravenously and/or using Nitrous Oxide (laughing) gas. Most importantly is the need to provide an injection of anesthetic extremely gently.
Fear of the dentist plagues more than 80 percent of American adults, and more than half say fear may keep them from going to see the dentist, according to a new survey by the American Association of Endodontists (AAE). Because poor dental care can lead to serious health problems, the AAE is tackling the issue head on as part of its third annual Root Canal Awareness Week, which takes place March 29 - April 4.
"There are many misconceptions about dental visits and root canal treatment, in particular," said Dr. Louis E. Rossman, AAE president. "Root Canal Awareness Week is aimed at dispelling these long-standing myths and hopefully reducing anxiety around the procedure. Patients need to understand that root canals actually relieve tooth pain and are much more comfortable today thanks to new technology and endodontists' specialized training."
While fear of pain is the top reason adults avoid the dentist, root canal treatment is the most feared dental procedure, according to the AAE survey. In fact, adults are as afraid of getting a root canal (54 percent) as they are of flying on an airplane during a storm (57 percent) and are more fearful of the procedure than of speaking in public or interviewing for a job (both at 42 percent).
When asked, nearly one-third of adult respondents admitted that their fear of the dentist is based on hearing about someone else's experience rather than their own. An ironic situation, since an AAE survey showed most people who have had root canal treatment performed by a specialist report it actually was a positive experience.
"Dealing with patient fear isn't unique to endodontists, but because of the root canal's reputation, we have significant experience with anxious patients," said Dr. Rossman. "Given that poor oral health and tooth loss are linked to many serious medical conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, we are committed to helping people overcome their fears to ensure they prioritize necessary dental care."