Dental phobia can lead to much bigger problems

Some people are afraid of spiders, heights or crowds, but one type of fear could lead to serious consequences — dental phobia. As part of Mental Health Month, some Nebraska dentists are working to raise awareness about the fear of dentists.

Dr. Ed Schooley says regular cleanings, exams and X-rays are vital to good oral health. “It is well established that seeking routine care really has a lot of cost savings for the patient,” Dr. Schooley says. “On average, every dollar that you put into just having a preventive dental service done saves up to 50 dollars in terms of treatment costs.”

He says avoiding the dentist could cause someone’s minor untreated dental problems to develop into severe oral health conditions and in rare cases, even death. He says it’s critical to look around and find the right dentist for you.

“You certainly want to find one you have confidence in, that you have trust in,” Schooley says. “Not all dentists were created equal. Some take more of an authoritarian type of role and feel that they’re in charge.” He says that’s the last type of dentist someone with a phobia would need. He suggests working with the dentist to reduce anxiety, asking the dentist to explain what’s happening during every stage of the exam.

Another strategy is to set up a hand signal to let the dentist know when to take a break. Schooley says, “Patients will often model after the behavior of the dentist so if you can find one that follows the ‘tell, show, then do’ type of dental practice that they feel comfortable with, have confidence in, that will go a long ways.”

Some dental offices offer services that help patients better manage their fears, including: hand massages, massaging dental chairs, virtual reality eyewear and headsets with music or calming nature sounds.

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