The Difference Between Anxiety, Fear and Phobia

June 18, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Dental Phobia

A distinction has been made between dental anxiety, dental fear, and dental phobia.

  • DENTAL ANXIETY is a reaction to an UNKNOWN danger. Anxiety is extremely common, and most people experience some degree of dental anxiety especially if they’re about to have something done which they’ve never experienced before. Basically, it’s a fear of the unknown.
  • DENTAL FEAR is a reaction to a known danger (”I know what the dentist is going to do, been there, done that - I’m scared!!”), which involves a fight-or-flight response when confronted with the threatening stimulus.
  • DENTAL PHOBIA is basically the same as fear, only much stronger (”I know what happens when I go to the dentist - there’s no way I’m going back if I can help it. I’m so terrified I feel sick”). Also, the fight-or-flight response occurs when just thinking about or being reminded of the threatening situation. Someone with a dental phobia will avoid dental care at all costs until either a physical problem or the psychological burden of the phobia becomes overwhelming.

So, What is Dental Phobia?

May 29, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Dental Phobia

So, just what is dental phobia?

The American Psychological Association defines phobia or ˜morbid fear”, is an irrational, intense, persistent fear of certain situations, activities, things, or people. The main symptom of this disorder is the excessive, unreasonable desire to avoid the feared subject. When the fear is beyond one’s control, or if the fear is interfering with daily life, then a diagnosis under one of the anxiety disorders can be made. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that between 8.7% and 18.1% of Americans suffer from phobia.

Exposure to the feared stimulus provokes an immediate anxiety response, which may take the form of a panic attack. The phobia causes a lot of distress, and impacts on other aspects of the individual’s life, not just their oral health. Dental phobics will spend an awful lot of time thinking about their teeth or dentists or dental situations, or else spend a lot of time trying NOT to think of teeth or dentists or dental situations. Which is pretty hard in today’s society, which is saturated with ugly reminders such as toothpaste commercials.

This is not to say that dental phobia cannot co-occur with psychiatric disorder - of course it can. Dental phobia appears to be more common in people who suffer from another psychiatric disorder, notably Generalized Anxiety Disorder, agoraphobia, depression, and emetophobia. Research suggests that about 20% of dental phobics have a concurrent psychiatric disorder. The main problem in defining “œdental phobia” is that there isn’t just ONE type of dental phobia, but many types - some rational, and some which seem more “œirrational”.

Whether the fear is “œunreasonable”, “œexcessive”, or “œirrational” is debatable… certainly not if you end up in the hands of the wrong dentist! Which, incidentally, is one of the reasons why people end up as dental phobics in the first place.

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