The term phobia (from the Greek phóbos, “panic, fear”) refers to an irrational and persistent repulsion towards certain situations, objects, activities, animals, or people, that do not represent a real danger to the person, and which, in severe cases, can limit the person’s independence.
Feeling a little frightened at the idea of going to the dentist or the need for dental treatment, is a common and fairly widespread experience.
However, if this state of anxiety leads to specific symptoms, including physical ones – such as tachycardia, trembling, pronounced sweating, dizziness, panic attacks, or nausea – to the point of preventing the proper access to the necessary treatment for one’s health, then it can be considered actual “dental phobia”.
The reasons that can trigger this type of anxiety are mainly related to the environment of the dental practice: instruments, such as dental drills or anesthesia syringes, can certainly generate a strong anxiety stimulus.
Moreover, the dentist, by the nature of his specialization, works in one of the most intimate areas of the human body, namely the mouth.
The mouth is certainly one of the most sensitive areas to pain and, at the same time, it is a primordial organ linked to emotions. Nonetheless, it is a constantly exposed part of the body, and it can easily be understood how allowing an operator to work on it with tools that are often very invasive, can create a strong feeling of discomfort and rejection.
Dental phobia is a real disease, recognized by the World Health Organization, which can lead sufferers to postpone necessary orthodontic treatment or abuse self-medication drugs, including antibiotics, causing considerable damage to their health.
The Italian Society of Dental Phobia (SIOF) reports the data of a WHO study, according to which about 20% of the population is, to varying degrees, affected by this pathology and within this group, almost 90% have a severely compromised dental situation.
Therefore, it is not surprising that in recent years several approaches and strategies have been developed to address this problem from different perspectives.
Given the significant damage that dental phobia can cause to sufferers, various methods of dealing with this fear have been developed in recent years to get more and more dental phobia patients to face up to and resolve this discomfort.
Two main approaches can be distinguished: one is based on the use of drugs and deep sedation during treatment; the other is derived from psychological and psychiatric subjects; these approaches can also be combined to increase their effectiveness.
The pharmacological approach mainly involves the deep sedation of patients using nitrous oxide mixed with oxygen, which is inhaled through special masks. General anesthesia allows the dentist to operate more freely, reducing the number of sessions needed to complete the procedure and thus the discomfort for the patient.
On the other hand, in the field of psychology and psychiatry, it is the cognitive-behavioral approaches that have so far been found most effective. These treatments, generally used for all disorders related to anxiety, phobias, and trauma, use specific techniques to help patients overcome, or at least better manage, their fears.
One of the most popular of these techniques is ‘systematic or gradual desensitization, which involves putting the person in contact with situations or objects that trigger their anxieties, and then training them to develop a positive response, induced through relaxation techniques.
Another effective technique is called “modeling”: the patient is asked to observe people who undergo situations similar to those he/she fears – in this case, dental treatments – but who face them with a serene, calm, and relaxed attitude.
There are also several ancillary measures and strategies that operators can implement to help patients with dental phobia and anxiety in general, to prevent and limit such problems.
Very often, dental phobia originates in childhood, perhaps as a result of traumatic episodes. This is why a correct approach by dental professionals in treating children can make a difference in their relationship with dental care throughout their lives, as discussed in this article.
The furnishings and layout of the dental surgery, the setting of the treatment room, and the equipment used can all play an important role in influencing the perception of the patient, not only in the pediatric setting. Finally, it is essential to correctly choose the type of chair in which the patient will be seated.
The anxiety of patients suffering from dental phobia can be reduced by receiving them in a room that doesn’t contain a complete dental unit, full of equipment perceived as threatening, but rather by inviting them in a more minimal and airier environment, on a stand-alone chair, to which the instruments needed during treatment are only brought closer at the time of use.
A phobic patient will also have difficulty keeping its mouth open and in the correct position for long periods. To overcome this discomfort, for example, a chair equipped with a soft-foam upholstery will give the patient perception of softness and comfort, recalling the comfortable feeling of home sofas, also from a visual and tactile point of view, and counteracting the feeling of stress.
The measures described can help to make visits to the dentist more pleasant for patients (whether they suffer from dental phobias or not) and, thanks to this, facilitate treatment for both patients and practitioners.
For any information on our chairs and optional extras that can make the dentist’s experience less stressful for all those involved, please do not hesitate to contact us!