It’s often said that to reduce fear and anxiety in relation to just about anything, the key lies in better understanding it. Which should mean that for those with dental anxiety and phobias, getting to grips with why they’re so nervous in the first place could help bring things under control.
Those who do not suffer from severe dental anxiety or phobias really cannot understand just how debilitating it can be. Even the very mention of a dentist’s surgery or chair can be enough to send those affected into a cold sweat. Suffice to say, the idea of actually going through with a visit to the dentist could well seem completely out of the question. All the while, those concerned continue to wonder why it is that they feel the way they do, while others seem to be largely unaffected.
Interestingly, the scientific community has at least a partial explanation.
Japan’s Study on Dental Anxiety
A study was carried out in Japan into exactly this phenomenon, with the aim of explaining why so many people have such intense fear of dentists, though aren’t bothered by other things which technically should be much more worrying. Hiroyuki Karibe of the Nippon Dental University in Tokyo, the leader of the study, and stated that the solution to debilitating dental phobias could lie with gaining a better understanding of key brain responses.
For the purposes of the study, adults between the ages of 19 and 49 were asked to complete a survey, measuring their own unique dental fears and anxieties. The participants were then divided into two groups – those with a higher level of anxiety and those with lower or zero anxiety. A functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI) was carried out on all of the participants, while listening to a recording of the sound of a dentist drill and the suction tools that are routinely used in dental surgeries.
When the results of the study were collected, it was hardly surprising to find that those in the lower anxiety group did not display any apparent signs of fear or anxiety during the tests. When analysing the fMRI scans, the researchers noted that their right and left superior temporal gyri reflected more activity, which suggests that the brain was responding to and processing the sounds in a somewhat neutral/balanced capacity.
By contrast, very different results were noted among the anxious group. Instead of the same activity in the auditory areas of the brain, the sounds triggered elevated responses in the left caudate nucleus – the area of the brain associated with learning and remembering sounds. Which would seem to suggest that dental anxiety and phobias are rooted relatively deep within the brain and are not the kinds of things that the individual in question can be expected to simply ‘switch’ on or off at their discretion.
At the same time, the evidence produced in the study could also pave the way for future research – eventually leading to more effective approaches for treating, or at least reducing, dental anxiety and phobias.
A Common Problem
Contrary to popular belief, dental anxiety is by no means a rare phenomenon limited to a small, select group of unlucky individuals. In fact, research suggests that somewhere in the region of 60% of people will feel a certain amount of anxiety or fear when attending the dentist. Nevertheless, a distinct line can be drawn between those who simply do not like the idea of going to the dentist and those who are physically unable to be anywhere near a surgery, due to their crippling fear.
Dental phobia is considered a very serious condition that makes it impossible for those affected to seek the care and treatment they may require. Even if those affected are fully aware of the condition and entirely understand that their own fears may be somewhat irrational or have no identifiable origin, it’s not quite as easy as snapping your fingers and taking control.
Possible Causes of Dental Phobia
While some causes of dental phobia are entirely explicable and understandable, others apparently come out of nowhere. For example, the vast majority of cases of dental phobia and anxiety can be traced back to traumatic – or even just slightly unpleasant – experiences at the dentist. When left with an unpleasant memory of such an experience, the passing of time only leads to more and more reflection over what took place and intensified anxiety. In many instances, what actually happened is remembered as being infinitely more traumatic than it actually was at the time, but again there is little the individual in question can do about this.
In other instances, individuals simply develop dental phobias either out of the blue or gradually over time. Severity and tolerance vary significantly from one person to the next, but it is nonetheless common to feel a sense of embarrassment, loss of control and a perpetual feeling of fear and nervousness.
Easing Dental Phobia
In terms of what can be done about dental phobia, there are various avenues to explore. For example, overcoming the fear of the dentist’s surgery itself can be as simple as arranging an informal appointment, wherein your dentist simply invites you into the office for a chat with absolutely no examination of any kind being performed. When the time comes for the examination to be carried out, various forms of sedation are available at a multitude of levels. Whether you need to simply be calmed slightly or sedated to the point where you neither know nor care what’s happening, there are endless options available.
Likewise, should it be necessary for any treatment to be carried out, it can be done under any level of sedation required. More often than not, the key to treating dental phobia lies in replacing terrifying thoughts or memories with the reality of modern dentistry as it exists today. Which is, in almost every instance, painless, approachable, fast, easy and effective.
Or to put it another way, nothing like it used to be!