Where does fear of dentists come from?

Most of you know about the fear of dental treatment. This can often be traced to a painful experience in childhood and the fear unfortunately remains with us until adulthood.

As a result we only go to the dentist as a last resort, when the pain becomes unbearable; we forget about regular check-ups and dental health suffers a lot and the sad conclusion is usually a removable dental prosthesis which is linked with serious losses and a notable decrease in general well-being.

Fear is – like joy, sadness, anger and shame – a basic emotion which man endows with different meanings in different parts of his life. From the evolutionary point of view fear is something meaningful and helpful which in former times warned us about numerous dangers and, with a reasonable reaction to it, saved us from possible further harm.

Of course people in industrialized countries no longer face the same dangers as in the past but nonetheless our basic emotions and our reactions thereto have hardly changed. Our fears are no longer solely related to directly dangerous situations but are often to do with things that affect us and which we disguise.

In addition fear is mainly learned and is often linked to past traumatic experiences, mainly in our childhood and youth. Dangerous situations which we’ve experienced are deeply etched in our minds, something which is also useful biologically, and they help us manage when we become adults.

An important factor in the appearance of social fears, for example, is to make too many demands on oneself. Some people require themselves to do everything perfectly, never to let themselves make a mistake. With this self-imposed demand, one’s fear increases – of making a mistake, of making a fool of oneself and being criticized. This problem is accompanied by a lack of social ease and empathy and this pursuit of perfection often leads to a reaction of fear.

Dental Phobia affects many adults.

Dental Phobia affects many adults.

This fear is not the fear of a really dangerous situation but is often rather caused by very little or damaged feelings of self-estimation. The less self-estimation one has, the more one thinks that something is wrong and so one develops a fear of rejection and criticism. Some people compensate for this fear with materialistic consumption, other react with withdrawal and others still follow their careers with determination – but the fear always remains.

Most fears nowadays are artificial, arising from experiences or upbringing, social intelligence and bio-evolutionary behavioural examples. Millions of people get injections every day, millions of teeth are treated daily and still there are many people who still regard a visit to the dentist as an insuperable danger.

If we look carefully it’s less a case of fear before the treatment; often a childhood trauma, embarrassment and the allied negative feelings hide behind the so-called fear of the dentist. In such a situation feelings of fear and helplessness develop all the more quickly the more one tries to set other limits or say ‘no’. In some people there’s a fear of embarrassment hiding behind a fear of dental treatment because they expect to receive criticism from their dentist about their poor oral hygiene.

Many people suffer all their lives from such disturbances. This can also bring on pathological consequences and lead to a noticeable weakening of the person affected. Whether someone has a particular specific fear (e.g. driving, climbing a tower) or whether the fear seems to come out of the blue and the person affected cannot rightly say what he’s afraid of is irrelevant. Often it becomes impossible to act/react or deal with the problem reasonably and this can lead to problems at work or with how one deals with others.

How can you, as a patient, break this spiral of fear? Here are a few tips which may be able to help you master your fear and take care of your teeth:

First of all you should know that you are not alone and that a fear of dentists is a problem that can be overcome. Many people all over the world have suffered from an acute fear of dentists and many of them have managed to leave this fear behind them with the help of detailed patient information, patient communities like Checkdent and the right dentist. Even if it looks impossible to you now, there are individual ways and means for everyone with a fear of dentists to master a visit to a dentist and we are here to show you these ways and means and accompany you on the path away from fear.

Should you notice a negative feeling about your dentist and/or his team don’t be angry or sad. Have some compassion for those who show such helplessness and lack of empathy.

Try not to hold on to negative past experiences. The past will not solve the problems with your teeth. A winner falls down just as often as a loser – it’s just that he always gets up again! Just because you had a bad experience it doesn’t mean that it will always be like that. Obtain several written offers and start the treatment wherever you feel you will be most comfortable.

Maybe you find it hard to trust others. Even the circumstances of the treatment may cause fear, especially when you feel you are helpless and at the dentist’s mercy, lying flat on your back, unable to speak and experiencing an invasion of a very sensitive part of your body. But you are not helpless. You can interrupt the treatment at any time. Inform yourself in advance about what will be done and how and this will help you not to feel helpless.

Get to know about the various methods of pain-free treatment from local to full anaesthetic. Nowadays dental treatments can be adapted according to your individual desire such as by dividing them into several small sittings, the avoidance of long waiting times and the possibility of being accompanied by a trusted friend.

Let the dentist and his assistants know about your fears. You will thereby relieve yourself of having to ‘grit your teeth and bear it’ in future. At the same time this will enable your dentist to agree with you the best measures to safeguard your comfort as far as possible. If you are embarrassed by your fear the best way to overcome both the fear and embarrassment is to speak about it openly.

When fixing an appointment let them know honestly about your fear right away and make the first appointment only for a short advisory discussion in order to establish whether you feel comfortable with the dentist. This will only involve one visit to the dentist and if you find out from this appointment that you don’t feel this is the right dentist for you then say so openly and continue with the search.

It’s always helpful to talk. Exchange views with family or friends you can trust and people in the Checkdent community.

Take time to find the right dentist. Have a look to see if a dentist, on his website or profile, is willing to listen to nervous or frightened patients and perhaps even works with a psychotherapist. You can easily contact a dentist via our mail system and get to know him a little even before the first visit.

Agree on a sign with the person treating you by means of which you can interrupt the treatment at any time should you feel that it’s too much for you. An understanding dentist will willingly take the time to calm you down before proceeding with the treatment.

Don‘t shy away from getting professional help. Many dentists work with psychotherapists for this reason. With their help not only will your teeth be treated but so will your fears after a few one-on-one sessions.

Some people are inclined to switch on the autopilot and simply obey the dentist’s orders as a result of their fear. If this sounds familiar to you ask a friend or relative whom you trust for help and encouragement. He/she can accompany you to the appointment and prevent you from sitting on the dentist’s chair against your original intentions, for example.

This post is also available in: German

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