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Hope For Dental Phobias Sufferers

Dr Martin Abelar - January 3, 2017 - 0 comments

According to WebMD, up to 20 percent of Americans report avoiding visits to the dentists due to anxiety and Live Science even ranked dental phobia in its list of top ten phobias. More severe than anxiety, anywhere from five to ten percent suffer from dental phobia and unless in unbearable pain won’t step foot in a dental office.

Dr. Martin Abelar, DDS, leading San Diego area restorative and cosmetic dentist says it’s a vicious circle.

“One of the major reasons I find people putting off dental work is because they fear the dentist. Maybe they had a bad experience as a young child. Maybe they had a bad experience as an adult. Perhaps they don’t even know why they fear visiting the dentist. But those are the patients that end up having most of the problems and needing the most serious work because it’s been put off for so long.”

Adding to their anxiety or phobia is the knowledge that if they were to bring themselves to go for an appointment finally, the amount of work that would need to be done to get their mouths healthy is more than they believe they could handle.

Thanks to advances in modern medicine, however, there are now ways to help patients cope while getting the care they need. Abelar regularly performs what is called sedation dentistry for his patients suffering from anxiety or phobic fear and says,

“These days there really is no reason to fear being uncomfortable while dental work is being done. There are options. There are oral sedation medications that can be taken that keep you relaxed while dental work is being done. The next level up from that would be IV sedation. That can be very comfortable. Most of the time you do go to sleep during that. In more severe cases there are even anesthesiologists that will come into an office and do general anesthesia for however long we need it. On some of my larger reconstruction cases, on patients that have major dental anxiety, we will be there all day completing all their work in one visit while they’re under anesthesia.”

The good news doesn’t end there. Those whose fear extends beyond the procedure itself to the sounds, sights and smells that may trigger their phobia will be happy to hear that many of the sedation techniques often have an amnesiac effect. Some patients happily report waking up the next day with no memory of the office visit or procedure whatsoever.

Psychologists at King’s College London Dental Institute are also studying how cognitive behavioral therapy can help produce long-term results in overcoming these fears. Some public and quasi-public practices in Europe and Scandinavia are teaming dentists and psychologists up in the same practice for a more comprehensive experience. In the United States, this has yet to occur because of financial concerns and frequent lack of health insurance coverage for mental health related care.

Perhaps with more research and publicity, psychology will find a place in dentistry in the United States, as well. For now, thanks to dentists practicing sedation methods, even those who fear dentistry the most can have access to the care they need.

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