Odontophobia: this is the extreme fear of the dentist, and his treatment
You have discomfort in your mouth for a long time, your gums bleed, you have been postponing the annual oral cleaning for more than three years and tartar is accumulating, you think you may be starting to develop periodontitis, and you know that there is only one way to solve all this, you do not have another ... but only imagine you panic, the insurmountable fear, you try to convince yourself that it really is not so necessary to go and you are willing to endure this situation before entering a dentist's office .
In this article we are going to talk about a much more common phobia than what is believed: odontophobia, the irrational fear of going to the dentist , a problem that can trigger several serious health complications.
- Related article: "Types of phobias: exploring the disorders of fear"
What is odontophobia? Differentiate between anxiety and phobia
As we have previously mentioned, odontophobia is the irrational and persistent fear of going to the dentist. To be considered a phobia, this fear must be prolonged for at least six months.
We must clarify that it is not the same to talk about the anxiety that we can all feel before going to the dentist (something very common in society, not only in children) and another thing is to talk about phobia to the dentist (odontophobia). Like it or not, sometimes going to the dentist is uncomfortable because of the invasive intervention that they usually do, since the mouth is a very sensitive area. It is normal and adaptive that in some way our organism detects that there is a "danger", and that as a consequence the anxiety to "flee" or to "fight" is activated. However, odontophobia is something much more serious for the person who suffers from it, since it affects your quality of life very negatively .
A differentiating element of having a simple state of anxiety and having odontophobia will be the extent to which the person actively avoids going to the dentist even though it is really necessary to go. A very appropriate analogy to understand this is to compare it with the aircraft phobia. Many people feel anxiety before flying, but do not go further and get on the plane without the need for alternative measures. People with a phobia to fly will avoid, as much as possible, getting on an airplane, and as long as they can, they will take alternative transports, even if that objectively harms them (economic level, time, etc.).
In the case of the person with odontophobia, as far as possible avoid going to the dentist at all costs , while the person with anxiety will face it without giving much importance, despite the discomfort or pain that may come to feel.
Symptoms of extreme fear of the dentist
People with odontophobia are afraid, in general, to invasive procedures (to be pricked, surgery, tooth extraction, anesthesia, drill ...). They experience great anxiety , which can lead to increased sensitivity to pain. Some authors associate dentistry or dental phobia with the phobia of SID (Blood-Injection-Damage).
They are afraid of suffering pain, and in some cases they are afraid of having a panic attack at the time of intervention. As a consequence of fear, patients tend to tense their muscles , even those of the face. Sometimes there may be a hypersensitivity to the drowning reflex, especially in the case of men. Drowning occurs when you try to put objects in the person's mouth or by pressing on the throat, making it difficult or preventing medical intervention.
In the most severe cases of odontophobia with hypersensitivity to the drowning reflex the stimuli that generate choking are expanded: think of the dentist, the smell of the dentist's own utensils, brushing teeth, wearing high collars, and so on.
- Related article: "Types of Anxiety Disorders and their characteristics"
In general, the causes of any specific phobia, such as odontophobia, are explained by three important factors (Barlow, 2002): biological vulnerability, generalized psychological vulnerability and specific psychological vulnerability. We are going to focus in a special way on the specific psychological vulnerability, since it tends to be the one with the greatest prominence in odontophobia.
This would be related to a direct negative learning experience, based on direct conditioning . More specifically, it would be the typical scene of a child who experiences a negative experience in the dentist and from then on conditions the dentist with pain or phobic stimulation, and generalizes to other stimuli (eg, white coat, the smell of dentist, see the materials ...).
Logically, the severity and frequency of these negative experiences (feeling that every time you go to the dentist you have a very unpleasant or mildly negative experience) and an infrequent exposure to the situation after the negative experience (to expand more and more the frequency with which we go to the dentist for the aversion and fear that it generates: avoidance) are the most important variables for the development of this specific phobia.
Fortunately, today dentists' interventions are less invasive and painful that a few years ago, the result of technological innovation and the use of finer and painless tools.
How is it overcome? Treatment
The Live Exhibition is one of the most effective treatments for dental phobia or odontophobia. If the person has an uncontrollable fear it can be useful to start with exercises of imagination exposure or watch videos about dentists, to continue with the live exhibition when the patient feels more prepared.
During the live exposure it is important that the patient feels that he has the possibility of controlling the feared stimulus through signals previously agreed with the dentist (eg, deciding when he wants to be punctured, stop the drill). It is important that there is a high degree of predictability, that is, that the patient controls the situation and knows what is going to happen at all times.
Obviously, it's better that the client chooses a trusted dentist and that has special empathy towards the difficult situation that the person is going through, because surely his intervention will require patience and special care. The dentist has to explain the procedures to be followed, what the next step will be, and what anesthesia is appropriate for each case.
In cases of odontophobia also it is useful to train the patient in controlled breathing or in applied relaxation , especially when the somatic reactions of intense fear produce muscular tension or tension in the throat).
- Related article: "Intervention in phobias: the technique of the exhibition"