Reasons Adults Still Fear the Dentist

Reasons Adults Still Fear the Dentist

Visiting a doctor’s office of any kind can bring a wave of fear and anxiety to just about anyone, but a trip to the dentist often invokes a debilitating feeling. Many adults avoid regular dental check-ups for years or even decades because the thought of sitting in the dentist’s chair is simply too much to stomach. Preventative care helps individuals detect and often correct gum and teeth issues before they require major medical intervention, and most routine dental procedures are low on the spectrum of pain and discomfort. Still, adults fear the dentist more than any other medical visit, new research shows.

According to a firm of dental negligence specialists in the UK, just under 34% of adults in Britain have a significant fear of making a dentist appointment. The overwhelming majority of the individual surveyed in the report cite feelings of discomfort when thinking about scheduling a visit with a dentist – a fear that can be traced back to their childhood years. A prominent university in Norway revealed similar results in a recent report, stating that one in five adults in the country weren’t comfortable visiting the dentist. In the U.S., dental anxiety plagues between 9 and 15% of adults, leading to between 30 to 40 million people skipping their dental checkups consistently. Although the anxiety that comes with thinking about the dentist varies in severity, it is important to understand why adults still avoid making and keeping appointments with a dentist.

Bad Childhood Memories

In the most recent research about fear of the dentist, individuals were asked to share where they thought their trepidation originated. Many respondents cited negative memories from childhood dental visits as the number one reason why a fear remained throughout their adult years. For some, time spent in a dentist’s chair as a child meant unspeakable pain and disturbing sights and sounds that continue to be embedded in their memory long after the incident took place.

Part of the reason for scary memories can be linked to the invasive tools used by dentists of yesteryear. Large drills, numbing needles, and loud cleaning instruments were the norm a few decades ago, and so it makes sense that thoughts of the dentist come with flashbacks of uncomfortable surroundings. Fortunately, dentistry has evolved leaps and bounds, with smaller tools, less harsh techniques, and training for dentists that focuses heavily on making the patient comfortable. A trip to the dentist’s office today is not nearly as terrifying as it was in childhood, making it easier to schedule and keep the next routine visit.

Too Close for Comfort

Another common reason for fearing the dentist revolves around the lack of personal space given in the dentist’s chair. The mouth is a small space to work with and in, which means a dentist or assistant often needs to be in close proximity to the individual undergoing a cleaning or exam. Other routine doctor’s visits do not call for such close contact, creating a real anxiety when it comes to the dentist for those who need and appreciate their personal space.

When there is anxiety due to constant physical contact with a dentist, patients can ease some of the worry by having a frank and honest discussion prior to starting an exam, cleaning, or other dental procedure. Sharing with the dentist that a need for personal space is pressing provides them with some insight into how they may want to perform the necessary treatment. Patients can also offer up signs that they are uncomfortable during a dental visit by simply raising a hand during a procedure to see if a brief respite is an option.

Fear of the Unknown

Similar to other encounters with medical professionals, many adults have a legitimate worry about the unknown. When preventative care and routine visits are not kept up to par, some could be facing serious gum and teeth issues like disease, decay, or nerve conditions in the mouth. Avoiding the dentist may mean ongoing pain, but it also means there is no surprise in how bad a dental condition has become.

In order to get over the anxiety of visits with the dentist, individuals can start by understanding what is to be expected in a routine checkup. A dentist will perform a thorough exam of the mouth and possibly have X-rays completed to ensure there are no major issues with the teeth or gums. After the exam, a complete cleaning takes place to remove built-up plaque that can cause disease in the future. When issues are found, dentists take the time to talk through treatments with patients, so they fully understand their options prior to undergoing any additional procedure or deep cleaning.

Millions of adults around the world fear the dentist, due to negative childhood memories, discomfort with an invasion of personal space, or not knowing what’s to come. However, working through these anxieties helps prevent ongoing, potentially detrimental health issues in the mouth that may require painful treatment and recovery. Scheduling routine dental visits is the only way to get ahead of serious conditions with the gums or teeth as an adult, and part of the process is understanding and moving past the fear and anxiety that comes with thoughts of the dentist.

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