A trip to the dentist can be unnerving for some people, but for others, it can produce extreme levels of anxiety and fear. Whether it is the sound of a drill or the smell of chemicals, the thought of visiting the dentist’s office is often enough to send people living with dental fear into a state of panic. In fact, roughly 30 million to 40 million Americans avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear. Many people attribute the fear to a bad dental experience, but a recent study shows dental fear may have a genetic link.
According to a study published in the Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology journal, dental fear was a 30% heritable trait. Additionally, the study confirmed that fear of pain is also a heritable trait and that “some of the genes that influence fear of pain likely also influence dental fear.” [i] In a separate study published in the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry in 2012, the results suggested that “a father who is afraid to go to the dentist is likely to pass on his fear to his children” [ii] and further proposes that fathers have a greater influence on their child’s level of fear via the “transfer of dental fear from mother to child.”2 So the crux of dental fears may start as early as childhood.
For people that avoid the dentist, whether it is due to fear, financial limitations or time constraints, lack of proper dental care can lead to many health implications including:
- Poor oral health
- High prevalence of missing teeth
- Poor sleeping habits
- Significant effects on behavioral, social and health functionality
- Increased risk for heart-related conditions
Dentists’ Role in Easing Patient Dental Fears
Like most dentists, Dr. Stefania A. Caracioni understands how dental fear can prevent patients from prioritizing their dental health and scheduling regular visits. As a result, her approach to patient care and her office environment are conducive to creating a safe environment for her patients.
“Our goal is to provide the best dental care,” Caracioni said. “That is why we have designed our office and treatment areas to be warm, relaxing and private.”
With such a big piece of the population suffering from dental fear, what can dentists do to ease those fears and get patients in the door?
“It’s about delivering the highest standard of care in a comfortable environment,” Caracioni said.
In order for patients to put their trust in dentists, it is also imperative that dentists work to establish and maintain relationships with their patients. Patients must feel like their dentists truly care about their well-being and comfort.
“Dentistry is a way to touch lives by developing true relationships,” Caracioni said. “Oftentimes, patients share with me their stories of tragedy and achievement. This is good — it is the essence of the human heart.”
Taking Control: How Patients Can Help Themselves
Patients can also take matters into their own hands by implementing a few tips to ease their fears. Mouth Healthy, a program of the American Dental Association, recommends taking these steps for a better experience in the dentist’s chair:
- Share your anxiety. Talk to your dentist about your fears and concerns. With this knowledge, you dentist can adapt your treatment plan to make you feel the most comfortable.
- Help yourself. Make your appointment for a day and time when you will not feel as rushed or pressed for time.
- Wear headphones. Bring a pair of headphones to help drown out the noises of the dental office.
While there may be a genetic link to dental fear, seeking out a dentist who puts patient care and comfort first coupled with a few do-it-yourself tips, patients can lessen the severity of their dental fears.
[i] West Virginia University – Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “Dreading your next trip to the dentist?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 October 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161013111707.htm>.
[ii] Lara, America, Antonio Crego, and Martin Romero-Maroto. “Emotional Contagion of Dental Fear to Children: The Fathers’ Mediating Role in Parental Transfer of Fear.” International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry (2011): 324-30. Web.