Dental anxiety is the fear of dentistry and of receiving dental care. It is estimated that as many as 45% of Indians experience some degree of dental anxiety, from mild to severe. Approximately 22% percent of Indian adults have severe dental anxiety, that is, they are so fearful of receiving dental treatment that they avoid dental care at all costs. Another 23% people are very anxious of dental treatment and will only seek dental care when they have a dental emergency, such as a toothache or dental abscess. People who are very fearful of dental care often experience a “cycle of avoidance,” in which they avoid dental care due to fear until they experience a dental emergency requiring invasive treatment, which can reinforce their fear of dentistry.
Dental anxiety is majorly caused due these reasons-
1. Fear of pain: The person is fearful of the immense pain that he/she will have to bear if undergoes a dental treatment. Dental fear may develop as people hear about others’ traumatic experiences or negative views of dentistry and even by seeing cartoons that depict patient in pain after treatment.
2. Fear of childhood trauma: Dental fear may develop as a result of a childhood traumatic experience in a non-dental context. For example, bad experiences with doctors or hospital environments may lead people to fear white coats and antiseptic smells. People who have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused may also find the dental situation threatening.
3. Fear of cost: People may also develop dental anxiety due to the fear of heavy costs they shall have to bear in the dental treatment.
4. Embarrassment over condition of teeth and mouth: Embarrassment is a common reason for feeling uneasy at the dentist. Often, those that avoid the dentist because of embarrassment perpetuate the cycle of poor oral health. They may fear being ridiculed or criticized about their tooth care. Patients with embarrassment over the condition of their teeth will need to be reminded that dentists see teeth in all conditions, and do not judge their patients for poor oral health, but instead want to help them improve.
5. Fear of unknown: There are also people who would not be able to explain as to why exactly they have dental anxiety. They just feel helpless and avoid visiting dentists.
What can you do to help people with dental anxiety?
• Create a relaxing clinical environment and friendly dental team- There is nothing like a friendly smile to help somebody feel comfortable especially when they are already feeling anxious. Your clinic’s environment will give the first impression and that should be very relaxing. Also a welcoming staff that is happy to answer any questions the patient might have is very important.
• Try to understand the psychological needs of the patient- This part is important as unless you understand the emotional and psychological needs of the patient you won’t be able to help. Different people may have different level and type of anxiety ranging from what we have discussed above. Counselling everybody in the same manner may not help.
• Make the patient understand the treatment they will receive- A little knowledge goes a long way, and we have found that when patients fully understand the type of procedure they will undergo, that helps alleviate anxious feelings.
• Educate the patient on why the treatment is necessary and what costs are related to it and why– Make the patient understand as to why it is important to do a certain treatment and give them a thorough talk as to what sedation, equipment and medicines will be used in the procedure and what all costs are related.
• Provide no judgmental evaluation- If it’s been a while since the patient has been to the dentist, he/she might be worried about being judged. Just don’t do that. Tell them that you want everyone to get the dental care they need, so regardless of how long it’s been since their last visit to the dentist, you welcome them.
• Offer feedback that is focused on oral health goals- Ask your patients to maintain good oral hygiene and suggest ways for the same. Also make sure that they are free of any kind of anxiety and counsel them regularly so that the anxiety does not creeps in again.