You’re at the dentist, sitting in the chair, and your dentist is poking around inside your mouth determining if you’ve flossed enough since your last visit. Except you haven’t actually walked through the office doors yet. Instead, you’re frozen by your phone, terrified of that exact scenario, unable to call to schedule your next checkup.

Even dentists experience this kind of fear! It’s a perfectly natural thing to be afraid of. According to the Dental Fears Research Clinic, it’s estimated as many as five to eight percent of people experience a fear of going to the dentist. But not all fear is equal - when it comes to fearing the dentist, there are two types of fear that pose a danger to your oral health: dental phobia and dental anxiety.

Dental phobia is the more extreme of the two. It’s classified as a paralyzing fear of the dentist, such that it cripples a person from going to the dentist, even when experiencing extreme pain. Those with dental phobia are at a high risk of tooth decay and numerous oral diseases, because they are unable to schedule an appointment with their dentist, let alone make it in for a checkup. Yes, they know this fear is harmful to their health, but they can’t do much to stop it.

Fortunately, many don’t experience this type of fear, but they may experience “dental anxiety,” a sometimes-overpowering fear that hits you before walking in for that dentist appointment. Those with dental anxiety are able to schedule appointments and go for regular checkups, but it is much harder for them to do so than those who have a general fear of the dentist, or no fear at all.

But what causes this fear? Dental phobia, anxiety, or fear can be attributed to one of these four things: the fear of embarrassment, the fear of pain, the loss of control, or a prior bad experience that has stuck with them since. The fear of embarrassment may come from having bad teeth, or teeth you’re ashamed of; the fear of pain may come from how alarming some dental tools look, or painful past experience; the loss of control can stem from being unable to talk or respond properly to your dentists many questions, be it with tools in your mouth or just questions you can’t answer; and a previous trauma may make it hard to return to the dentist, for fear of a repeat.

Whatever the cause of your fear, it’s important that you still schedule regular dental checkups with your dentist. For those with dental anxiety or fear, here are some tips to overcome that pit in your stomach, schedule your check-up, and show up:

- Acknowledge the fear first – you have to accept your fears before you can move forward.

- Figure out what causes your fear. If it’s simply having bad teeth (or thinking you do), you can discuss that with your dentist and take action to overcome it – perhaps even find a way to fix your teeth.

- If the fear of pain or loss of control is holding you back, bring a friend to your next appointment. Moral support goes a long way in making you feel better, and having someone there to help keep you calm and relaxed is an excellent way to make sure you go to the dentist and actually have that checkup.

- A sure-fire solution is talking to your dentist. Your oral practitioner wants you to come in for your checkups – that’s their job! Having an open and honest discussion with them will help pinpoint your fears and best solve them so that going to the dentist isn’t so hard on you.

- Speak up! If at any point during your visit you feel uncomfortable or scared, let them know. Your dentist isn’t there to hurt you, they’re there to help you. This will help combat any loss of control you may be feeling.

- If you believe you have dental phobia or that these tips won’t help, speak to a psychologist. Tips or encouragement can help, but the best solution is to see a professional who will help you overcome your fears and anxieties.

Your dental health is a key part of your overall health, so don’t be afraid to speak up and let your dentist know your fears! Your #oralfitness is important!

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