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Dental Fear, Anxiety, And Phobia: What Is The Difference?

Posted on 9/5/2022 by Stephanie Day
Dental Fear, Anxiety, And Phobia: What Is The Difference?Dental fear, dental anxiety, and dental phobia are all terms used to describe patients afraid of going to the dentist. They are related conditions that share some similarities but are different. Understanding their differences is essential to know what you're dealing with and how to overcome it.

Dental Fear

The most common type of dental fear is what we call "conductive." Meaning the fear is mainly related to the specific act of going to the dentist—cleaning your teeth or getting a filling—and you may want to avoid it. But once you're there and in the chair, you may be able to relax enough to get the dental care you need.

This type of dental fear is common and is often centered around:
•  Fear of the unknown (of what might happen)
•  Fear of pain, whether mild or severe, such as when you have to have a cavity filled
•  Fear of being judged as viewed as a bad patient

Usually, this type of dental fear can be easily overcome with a comforting care team.

Dental Anxiety

Dental anxiety usually means that your worry about going to the dentist starts long before you even make an appointment. You might find yourself anxious for days before your visit, worrying about what could happen when you go in; this type of anxiety often leads to avoidance behavior (like not getting annual checkups). Unfortunately, it is often caused by a negative past dental experience.

The good news is there are strategies you can implement to manage dental anxiety, such as pre-scheduling dental visits a year or so in advance. This way, you are reminded when it is time to go in for your previously scheduled visit instead of trying to push through the anxiety and gather up the courage to schedule an appointment. We also recommend talking with Dr. Hill and our clinical team about your fears so that we can help by explaining how procedures work, what to expect, and sedation options to make you more comfortable.

Dental Phobia

The third type of dental fear is called dental phobia, which is extreme anxiety that can result in physical symptoms like panic attacks, nausea, or vomiting. These physical symptoms can occur when faced with simply considering visiting a dentist or having dental work done — even when no procedures are planned. People may avoid going to a dentist altogether or only go when necessary because of their fear of dentists or the pain associated with procedures performed there.

Overcoming the Fear, Anxiety, or Phobia

The first step to better dental care is understanding the WHY behind your fears. If you know your triggers and how to overcome them, you can dramatically improve your dental experience.

If you are experiencing fear, anxiety, or phobia of the dentist's office but don't yet know what the triggers are, try asking yourself some questions:
•  What happens when I go to the dentist? Do I feel anxious or panicked?
•  How do these feelings impact my behavior at the dentist? Can I communicate clearly with my dentist and hygienist? Do they notice something different about me on these visits compared to other times when I'm not feeling as anxious?

Once you've identified some common themes between your visits (the room smells funny; the sounds are scary; the light levels are too bright), now focus on how those things make you feel. The next step is working through any negative thoughts associated with those situations.

Our providers genuinely care about your health and would love to help you overcome dental phobia. We have strategies that may help, including anesthetics, a comfort menu, and sedation options. Our goal is always to ensure that our patients feel comfortable in our office and leave with a positive dental experience.

If you are looking for a dentist in Spokane, we'd love to welcome you into our dental family! Give us a call at (509) 468-4040 or request an appointment today!

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Smile More Spokane Family Dentistry maintains a dental blog to help educate and inform our patients about topics that affect their oral health.
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