For some people, the thought of a dental visit can cause more fear than watching a horror movie. Taking care of teeth involves more than flossing and brushing daily. It involves complete care such as visiting a dentist every six months for a regular checkup and professional cleaning. Sometimes other dental work is needed to stop or prevent cavities from developing in teeth. Whether it is a routine dental appointment or appointment for a filling, a person may fear going to the dentist. There’s a name for this. It’s called dental anxiety.

What Does Dental Phobia Mean?

Dentist fear is real for many people. A dental phobia means the person is afraid of going to the dentist. They aren’t just afraid. They are terrified. They are so frightened that they do anything to avoid making a dental appointment and/or going to the dentist. It doesn’t matter if they need a routine dental checkup or oral surgery.

A phobia is an unreasonable, intense fear that causes a person to avoid a specific activity like going to the dentist. They put off simple appointments for decades. They will endure periodontal disease, unsightly teeth, infections, pain and even broken teeth to avoid the dentist.

Is Dental Phobia and Anxiety the Same?

No. Both dental phobia and anxiety are common, but not the same. To have an anxiety of the dentist means a person is uneasy about going to the dentist. They may exaggerate the worst that could happen to them.

For instance, they may tell people they are may die when they go to the dentist for a professional teeth cleaning. They also may have unfounded fears about going to the dentist and/or undergoing dental procedures. A person with anxieties about going to the dentist or a dental procedure will still make their appointment. The anxiety may never completely go away. It may creep back up when it is time to make an appointment.

Reasons for Having Anxiety and Phobias About the Dentist

Whether a person has a phobia or anxiety about the dentist, the fears often are rooted in some common experiences. For example, they had a bad experience at the dentist. Maybe the dentist didn’t provide enough pain medicine during a procedure, so they could feel the dentist working on their tooth.

Another reason is pain. A lot of people fear pain. It doesn’t matter if it is pain from a dental procedure or not. The feeling of loss of control and helplessness is another reason why people are anxious or have a phobia about the dentist. When they are in a dental chair, they feel restricted and unable to leave if something goes wrong. Embarrassment can also create anxiety or a phobia of the dentist. The person is too ashamed of how bad their teeth are, so they don’t go to the dentist.

Types of Sedation to Ease Anxiety at the Dentist

The most common types of sedation dentistry people know about to ease dental fear is nitrous oxide. This is commonly called laughing gas. However, there are other types of sedation methods available at the dentist office. For example, intravenous (IV) sedation is another common anti-anxiety method. A person is given a sedative, which is injected directly inside their vein. This allows for a deeper sedation. The person is still awake, but they aren’t aware of what’s going on.

General anesthesia is another sedation option. It allows the person to sleep during the entire procedure. Just like with the IV sedation, general anesthesia is injected into a person’s vein. They may also receive gaseous anesthetic inhalation too. Enteral sedation is given to a person in a liquid or pill form. That’s why it is called enteral sedation. It may be given in combination with laughing gas. The person remains awake, but they no longer fear undergoing dental work.

Who Is a Candidate for Sedation to Calm Fears About Undergoing Dental Work?

The thought of undergoing dental work could make a person sick with anxiety, fear and stress. This means they often avoid going to the dentist for a much-needed dental procedure. Sedation is a good option for those who fear going to the dentist. Not everyone may be a good candidate for undergoing sedation.

Those who have diabetes, cardiac disease, respiratory disease or hypertension should obtain clearance from a physician before undergoing sedation. Medical clearance means the person can undergo sedation because it won’t cause any adverse reaction with their medical condition. A dentist will take a physical assessment and medical history before recommending sedation.