Afraid of the Dentist? It Could Be Harming Your Quality of Life

Patient pretending to be scared

While it is estimated that nearly 60 percent of all adults suffer from some form of dental anxiety, that anxiety usually does not keep them from receiving regular dental care. However, for another five to ten percent of adults, dental anxiety is more than just anxiety, it’s fear. It’s called odontophobia, and while it more than likely will eventually cause harm to your teeth, a recent study has found that it could harm your quality of life, too.

According to a recent study by King’s College in London and published in the British Dental Journal, people who have odontophobia frequently avoid visiting the dentist, and as a result often have severe untreated dental problems that can diminish their overall quality of life. The study analyzed data from 1,367 patients who were described as dental phobic. Of those patients, many had problems ranging from severe tooth decay, to missing teeth and even gum disease. Furthermore, those who had these conditions were more likely to treat them with rushed solutions like extractions, rather than attempting to repair the problems with fillings, crowns or root canals.

Another response that researchers found problematic is that when surveyed, most respondents with odontophobia rated their quality of life as poor, frequently due to the elevated levels of pain associated with their poor oral hygiene and the difficulty they encounter in doing routine things like eating, speaking and feeling comfortable in social situations. Dentist Dr. Alexandra George of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania says that dental anxiety or odontophobia is unfortunate, but it’s understandable, too.

“It’s scary when you have no idea what the dentist may find when they examine your teeth, or how much pain it will cause to fix that problem,” said George. “If a patient is in pain, they may be afraid the problem is worse than it really is, and simply avoid dealing with it. Unfortunately, when it comes to teeth, this almost always makes the problem worse. What can start out as a simple cavity can turn into a crown or extraction by putting off treating it.”

So, what should you do if you have dental anxiety or odontophobia? George recommends speaking to your dentist about your fears prior to booking your appointment.

“Your dentist can try to make accommodations for you to make your exam a little more comfortable,” said George. “He or she may also be able to use nitrous oxide or prescribe a sedative to help you relax for your appointment, or recommend that you work with a therapist to help conquer the anxiety, especially if it’s affecting your quality of life.”

Whatever you decide, George recommends sticking with the treatment plan and not rushing yourself to get better.

“Don’t expect to go to a counselor and be cured overnight, but don’t give up if you have a setback,” said George. “Overcoming fears takes time, but when your health is involved, you should make it a priority.”

Dr. Alexandra S. George

Medically reviewed by Dr. Alexandra S. George - D.D.S., L.Vl.I.F. on June 8th, 2017