Are you afraid of the dentist’s chair?

Odontophobia is the fear of dentistry and receiving dental treatment.

Fear of the dentist is common. It is estimated that 75% or people experience some degree of dental fear, whilst 5-10% suffer from acute anxiety which can lead to severe panic attacks.  

Dental fear can be treated using a variety of behavioural and pharmacological techniques. There are even specialised dental fear clinics whose goal is to provide people with fear management skills so they can receive necessary dental care without suffering from acute anxiety. 

Behavioural techniques include positive reinforcement together with relaxation and cognitive techniques, which have been proven to significantly lower dental fear. Pharmacological techniques range from mild sedation to general anaesthesia. Nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”) is commonly used to reduce anxiety in fearful patients.  

Researchers in Sweden, Denmark and the UK have reported that acupuncture can also help reduce dental anxiety. During a study, 20 participants exhibiting dental anxiety were given a 5 minute acupuncture sessions prior to treatment. In each case, anxiety levels dropped and all patients were able to complete treatment.  A further 20 participants did not receive acupuncture, and of this group only 6 were able to complete their treatment. 

A recent study in Tokyo attempted to identify the brain’s response to dental anxiety. Study participants were played sounds of dentists drilling teeth. Those experiencing the highest levels of anxiety showed increased brain activity in the left caudate nucleus, which is the area of the brain concerned with stimuli and response. The auditory region of the brain did not seem to be stimulated to the same degree. This suggests that anxiety was caused not by the sound of the drilling, but by previous negative dental experiences. 

An alternative remedy for odontophobia may, therefore be to maintain excellent oral health whilst we are young, in order to avoid frequent and potentially traumatic visits to the dentist. It has also been shown that if a first experience is of a positive nature,  an “immunity” is developed to a potential phobia, regardless of whether the first experience goes on to be traumatic. This is known as “latent inhibition” and it is the reason why it is a good idea for a child’s first visit to the dentist to involve no treatment, but just a look around the surgery and to get a sticker. 

If you or a family member or friend suffer from dental anxiety, Frances Sands at Higher Lane Dental Practice will be able to help. Frances is our qualified dental therapist and has tremendous experience with nervous patients, helping them overcome fear and anxiety in the dental chair. Higher Lane Dental Practice is located in the village of Lymm, Cheshire. Call 01925 752209 today or contact us online to make an appointment.