When smiles are spooky: fear and the dentist’s chair

Dr. Steven Deneka

Halloween Blog Photo 2015If you were expecting a Halloween column warning about the horrors of eating candy, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, I thought I’d write about something many of us might find a little scarier – fear of visiting the dentist, or “odontophobia”.

I came across an article recently that said 40 per cent of Canadians are afraid of visiting the dentist. Don’t worry, my feelings weren’t hurt. I hear it all the time. In fact, when I was younger, I was nervous about going to the dentist until I found one who made me comfortable.

Fear of visiting the dentist can range from mild to severe, and may stem from painful experiences, concerns about potentially invasive procedures or discomfort with a dentist’s bedside manner, perceiving someone as too serious or not empathetic enough. Some people may develop a phobia based on indirect sources, like hearing about someone else’s bad experience, or negative portrayals of dentists in the media.

Solutions to calm patients’ nerves are two-fold. A combination of technological advances and strategic dental techniques can go a long way in helping increase comfort levels. From a technology perspective, using digital photographs can help a dentist explain the need for a procedure, and help tell a patient about what their treatment may entail before it’s done. Often what people fear is the unexpected.

Technique can help soothe potential discomfort and fear. Gentle dentistry is essential to anticipate patient pain and help manage it appropriately. Local anesthetics play an important role in dental treatment, and knowing which parts of the mouth are more sensitive than others, and delivering injections strategically, can help reduce pain. Giving time for an anesthetic to take hold before starting a procedure can also increase a patient’s comfort level. Finally, I’ve always tried to work efficiently to keep chair time down and help patients get back to their daily life that much quicker.

It’s important to find a dentist who you feel comfortable with and explain any anxiety you’re feeling to come up with a plan that works for you. And about that candy? Everything in moderation is fine, just remember to get your little ghouls to brush their teeth!