DENTISTS are concerned the pandemic will have exacerbated many people’s fear of getting their teeth checked.
Dentophobia is one of the biggest causes of avoidance of dental care in the UK. Half the population are already scared of visiting the dentist.
With the majority of dental practices across the UK now back open to the public as of last week, dentists want to reassure those nervous about returning that practices will be one of the most sterile environments in the country, and support will be readily available to help with any issues around dentophobia.
Dr Catherine Tannahill, dentist and director of clinical dentistry at Portman Dental Care, said: “Dentophobia has been a prevalent issue for years and unfortunately is still very common in the UK, with one in two people experiencing some level of fear or anxiety when visiting their dentist.
“For most people who experience some level of fear, visiting the dentist can feel like an unpleasant ordeal, but for the six per cent who are so acutely affected that it becomes an actual phobia, it is enough to deter them from going altogether.
“This fear and anxiety toward the dentist and dental treatment is one of the most common causes of avoidance of dental care that we see across our practices, and we are concerned the Covid-19 pandemic will have unnecessarily exacerbated this issue for many people.
“For phobics, good communication and rapport with a trusted dentist, continuity and regular exposure to a clinical environment are the best methods for managing their dentophobia, but this will have unfortunately taken a downturn during lockdown with practices having to close.
“An anxious patient may have also been treated by an emergency triage unit during lockdown, with a clinician they do not have a prior relationship with, which may then have had a knock-on effect on their anxiety about returning again.
“Often the longer the gaps between appointments, the harder it becomes to return and the more the anxiety builds, so it is important that people with dental anxiety look to return to their dentist soon, and we want to highlight that there is a whole host of support available that dentists can offer to anyone who is feeling anxious or who suffers with acute dentophobia to help them return.
“Dentists are now better versed on the causes of dentophobia and so know how to alleviate or remedy the issue, even if it has been a lifelong problem. Listening to the patient to understand their cause of the dentophobia and their needs is the crucial first step in helping to fix the issue.
“Many people may also have increased anxiety around returning to practice due to not feeling that it is safe or that there will be a risk of infection. We therefore want to reassure that dental practices are one of the most sterile environments in the UK. From PPE and extensive cleaning, to temperature screenings and even air purifying technology, dentists have worked tirelessly throughout lockdown to ensure practices are as safe as possible for patients and colleagues.
“There can be various triggers for dentophobia, including a fear of needles, pain or choking/gagging and not liking people in personal spaces. However, the most common is a past unpleasant or traumatic experience at the dentist, at a time when dental techniques and procedures were perhaps not as painless, relaxed and sophisticated as they are today.
“Many dentists today offer special treatment for nervous patients, including hypnosis, relaxation techniques, sedation and distraction techniques with the likes of video googles or music and pacing, where they gradually introduce them to the noises and smells of a practice.
“Your dentist can also build treatment plans around your needs, for example, some patients may look to organise appointments closer together so that they are visiting the practice and seeing the familiar faces more often.
“Providing video consultations, something that has improved greatly during lockdown, can also help with dentophobia, as the patient can discuss their needs with the clinician they know and trust without needing to visit the practice more times than is necessary, and can discuss their concerns from the comfort and security of their own homes.”
Portman Dental Care is also concerned that if people choose not to return to their dentist for treatment, then the prolonged gaps between regular dental check-ups could cause a potential spike in oral health emergencies, such as undiagnosed mouth cancer, gum disease and tooth decay in children.
Caroline continued: “We understand how hard it is for those with dentophobia to come into practice, but it is important to highlight that not visiting the dentist for extended periods of time, or even attempting DIY dentistry instead, can have side effects that are far worse than the fear itself.
“Untreated dental issues can lead to serious general health implications, not just due to problems in eating and therefore nutrition, but also gum disease, for example, links to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, lung disease and dementia, while people with untreated tooth infections are 2.7 times more likely to have cardiovascular problems.
“It is therefore crucial that people now return to their dentist for treatment and dental health examinations, rather than leaving dental issues to develop into something more serious. We hope that anyone feeling nervous about returning reaches out to their dentist for support with any concerns in the first instance and they will be able to help.”