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Understanding dental fear (and how to overcome it)

Patient scared of dentist
Photo: Understanding dental fear (and how to overcome it)
Many people don't like going to the dentist, and it isn't hard to see why! Our mouths are among the most sensitive parts of the body, and many of us have painful memories of going to the dentist (those wretched wisdom teeth have some explaining to do). Even when a trip to the dentist is as unobtrusive as possible, it's still not fun to have a vacuum stuffed down your gob.

The real problem is when dental dislike turns to dental fear. Fear of going to the dentist can make a person delay going for a checkup, or ignore early warning signs of real dental problems. When people avoid the dentist because of their dental fear — and expose themselves to risks like rotting teeth or advanced gum disease — they can end up in far more pain than was ever necessary.
Read on to discover the roots of dental fear (pun intended) and learn how to overcome it.

The causes of dental fear

There are many causes of dental fear. The dread of going to the dentist might stem from traumatic childhood experiences, an aversion to medical practitioners in general, or any number of other things. A Freudian, for example, might put dental fear down to a difficulty in the oral fixation stage of their development. A Jungian, on the other hand, might say something about anxiety, and the mouth being the boundary between the seen exterior and the hidden interior.

No matter the psychoanalytical rationale for the fear, it's plain to see that small or latent fears are inflamed by pervasive anti-dentist stereotyping in the media. We are perpetually bombarded by horror stories about the dentist, in sitcom episodes, stand up comedy routines, online memes, and breakfast radio banter.

Think of the harm that Little Shop of Horrors has done for untold numbers of children!

How can you treat dental fear in the long term

The best long term solution for dental fear is to start working to overcome it. Depending on how deep the fear is in a person's psyche, it may take years of arduous self-reflection to transcend an irrational fear. But the rewards are substantial — treating fear in one part of your life can actually improve in a variety of other areas. The liberation from dental terror might result in an increase in confidence in entirely non-dental related activities.

However, dealing with deep seated anxiety and fear can take years and years. For some people, progress is straightforward, but for others, it is an arduous journey. And getting yourself to a dentist isn't necessarily something you can work towards over a series of months; if you're already suffering from tooth or mouth pain, then you need to take immediate recourse.

Immediate relief for dental fear

Of course, while it is ideal to take steps toward conquering your dental fear, you don't need to put off urgent and important dental work in the meantime.

Many people find sleep dentistry to be a wonderful way of circumnavigating dental fear. Rather than having to conquer your anxieties head on, the dentist will simply use chemicals to peacefully send you to sleep. You won't be conscious during the dentistry, thereby sparing you (and your dentist) from any despair or panic that might have otherwise afflicted you during the proceedings.

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