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Anxiety, Fear and Phobia

Dental procedures are now mainly painless. In spite of these improvements, many people still experience anxiety, fear and even phobia about going to the dentist. This can lead to neglect of dental problems and cause even more pain than the patient is trying to avoid.


1. What is anxiety?

  • Anxiety is a sense of worry, dread or fear and is a very common feeling.
  • We feel anxious if we are uncertain about the future, or if we think that something unpleasant is about to happen.
    We cope pretty well with anxiety most of the time, but it can intensify into fear.


2. What are the symptoms of anxiety?

  • Some of the most common and familiar symptoms of anxiety are:
    • “Butterflies in the tummy”.
    • Sweating.
    • Nausea.
    • Diarrhoea.
    • Feeling giddy and breathless.
    • As mild anxiety becomes fear, these symptoms may increase in intensity.


3. Can anxiety or fear of going to the dentist become a problem?

  • Mild anxiety is no more than one of life’s manageable difficulties.
  • However, if anxiety and fear keep you away from the dentist, dental problems are more likely to develop, or to get worse.
  • It is important to see your dentist twice a year, even if you don’t look forward to the appointment.
  • If dental problems are neglected they will become worse; they never just go away.
  • Regular dental check-ups can prevent problems from developing.


4. What is a phobia?

  • Phobia is a profound dread or terror of a specific situation or thing.
    • It is way out of proportion to any real danger or threat.
    • Some people have a phobia about injection needles, or about going to the dentist.
    • They may become panic stricken or immobilised with fear at the prospect.
    • Although this fear is unreasonable and irrational, it is nevertheless very real to the person experiencing it.
    • It requires patience and understanding to help with this problem.
    • Impatience, or telling people to pull themselves together, is unhelpful.
    • Because the fear is irrational, reasoning with the patient or explaining the situation, won’t help very much.


5. What can be done to help people who are afraid of dental treatment?

  • If you feel anxious or nervous before going to the dentist, take a mild sedative or analgesic before your appointment.
    • First consult your dentist or doctor about which sedative or analgesic you should take.
    • Tell your dentist about your fears.
    • Pain relief and anxiety reducing medications are available.
    • Simple reassurance can also go a long way to relaxing a nervous patient.
    • Some dentists specialize in treating patients who have phobias.
    • Tranquillizers, hypnosis, “happy gas” or even a general anesthetic may be necessary for a patient suffering from a phobia.


6. Am I the only person who is afraid of injection needles?

  • Fear of injection needles is very common.
  • It is not unusual for a person to feel faint when they see a needle, or after having an injection. Don’t feel embarrassed about reacting in this way, as it is not at all unusual.
  • Tell your dentist how you are feeling, and you will get all the help and reassurance you need. This is what you can do to cope with your anxiety:
    • Loosen your shirt collar and belt as you sit down in the dental chair.
    • Rest your hands and arms on the sides of the dental chair to feel more secure.
    • Concentrate on your breathing. Breathe in and out steadily, and this should make you feel relaxed.
    • Closing your eyes before and during the injection can help.
    • With your eyes closed, think of a pleasurable experience you have had and try to re-live it.
  • The injection is, after all, not painful. It can be virtually painless.


7. Why does an injection make me feel faint?

  • The sight of, or the feel of the needle as it pierces the gum, sends a signal to the brain. This is the starting point.
    • The signal triggers a rapid reduction of the blood supply to the head.
    • As a result, you feel giddy, and the room starts to spin around you.
    • If you were standing upright, you would faint and lose consciousness.
    • Because you are almost lying down in the dentist’s chair, you do not faint.
    • You may feel anxious and a little light-headed, but this will soon pass.

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