How to overcome a phobia of dentists

This year’s National Smile Month (May 15 – June 15) offers three key messages:

• Brush your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day with a fluoride toothpaste.

• Cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks.

• Visit the dentist regularly, as often as they recommend.

But what if you have a phobia of dentists? According to a study by experts at King’s College London, people who have a severe fear of the dentist are more likely to have tooth decay or missing teeth. Published in the British Dental Journal, the study shows that not only are people with dental phobia more likely to have one or more decayed teeth (as well as missing teeth), they also say their quality of life is poor.

Anxiety about visiting the dentist may be more common than you think. According to information published in the Adult Dental Health Survey (2009), out of 10,900 participants, 1,367 people were identified as having dental phobia (according to the NHS, one in four dreads going to the dentist).

“Our study found people with dental phobia tend to experience a range of dental diseases, which result from their avoidance of the dentist,” says Professor Tim Newton from the King’s College London Dental Institute.

Professor Newton’s colleague Dr Ellie Heidari adds: “This phobia can have a major impact on a person’s quality of life, including on their physiological, psychological, social and emotional wellbeing. Other research has shown that people with dental phobia express negative feelings such as sadness, tiredness, general anxiety and less vitality. An action as simple as smiling will be avoided due to embarrassment of their poor teeth.”

Combat your fears

According to the Oral Health Foundation, the most common fears for visiting the dentist are having a tooth drilled and having a local anaesthetic injection. But nobody is born with a dental phobia. You develop it – and most importantly, you can overcome it. Here are the charity’s five tips to combat a dental phobia:

1. It might be useful to talk to someone and even see the practice before your appointment. Taking a friend and listening to music might help to relax any tension you have.

2. Make sure your dentist knows you are a nervous patient, including what you most dislike about treatment.

3. Book an appointment at a time of day you feel most comfortable with.

4. Before treatment begins, agree a signal with your dentist that means ‘stop’ in case you need a break.

5. Contact one of the dental phobia support networks such as Dental Phobia.

If, however, you’re extremely nervous, the NHS recommends you ask your dentist to refer you to an NHS sedation clinic. These clinics offer different types of sedation that can help you feel more relaxed while you’re having dental treatment.

Meanwhile, taking good care of your teeth and gums can help prevent problems that require dental treatment, including fillings and extractions. Ask your local Careway pharmacist to recommend a good toothbrush, fluoride toothpaste, interdental cleaning products (floss, interdental brushes etc) and mouthwash, as regular use of these products may help keep those dental visits down to a minimum.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.