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Ditching the Dentist is Harmful to Overall Health

A recent study out of King’s College in London confirms that dental phobia, also known as odontophobia, leads to an increased incidence of tooth decay and tooth loss. It’s estimated that roughly 30 to 40 million people avoid going to the dentist because of dental phobia. With so many people steering clear of the dentist because of this, these new findings aren’t surprising, but they’re still problematic.

The new study confirms what U.S. dentists have been saying for years: skipping the dentist is harmful to your oral health. The study "found people with dental phobia tend to experience a range of dental diseases which result from their avoidance of the dentist."[i] But it also suggests that dodging the dentist can affect your quality of life.


According to the lead author of the study, Dr. Ellie Heidari from the King’s College London Dental Institute, dental phobia can impact a person’s "physiological, psychological, social and emotional wellbeing,"[i]

Many survey respondents suffering from dental phobia reported their quality of life as poor, citing frequent instances of elevated pain levels associated with poor dental hygiene.

Dr. David Buck, a neuromuscular dentist in Washington state, sees many patients who suffer from dental phobia, and he’s well-versed on the ways delaying dental treatment for oral health issues can impact more than just the patient’s teeth.

"The pain moves from a specific area to a diffuse; fatigue, anxiety, depression or general malaise throughout the whole body," Buck said. "It’s such a trigger for a whole series of events, but when you correct the problem, the body relatively corrects."

But the true challenge lies in getting the patient in the chair for an examination and treatment. For patients with severe dental phobia, it can be extremely difficult. That’s why Buck believes it’s incumbent on dentists to do their part to put their patients at ease and provide them with the most gentle and positive experience.  

"As dentists, we want to help that patient stay comfortable and not have a negative outcome or experience," Buck said.

There are many things that can lead to dental phobia, but the most common causes are pain or fear of pain, loss of control, embarrassment and negative past experiences. For patients living with dental phobia, it’s important to try and take control of anxiety and fear to preserve your dental health. Experts suggest trying some of these remedies to help ease dental fear:  

  • Relaxation techniques (such as guided imagery and deep breathing)
  • Distractions (like listening to music or watching TV)
  • Acupuncture and Acupressure
  • Pain Control Measures or Sedation for more extreme causes of dental anxiety

For patients living with dental phobia, scheduling a dental appointment and actually seeing it through are both incredibly challenging tasks. But with dentists like Buck who are willing to bridge the gap, meeting patients where they are and doing their part to make the experience as painless as possible, providing services to dental phobia patients can become more seamless. The hope is that in the end, patients can avoid long-term dental issues through the practice of preventative dental care.

 



Source:

[i] "King's College London - Homepage." King's College London - Phobia of dentists leads to more decay and tooth loss, new study finds. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2017.

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