Whether it’s the whirring sound of the drill, the blinding sensation of the overhead light, or merely the sight of that familiar padded reclining chair, the prospect of going to the dentist can be enough to make normally fearless individuals more than a little queasy. For some, this fear is so intense that they ignore potentially serious problems because the idea of a visit to the dentist is simply too upsetting.
If you’re scared of going to the dentist, you’re not alone. In fact, researchers have found it’s quite likely that your parents were also scared of visiting the dentist. However, your fear is not the result of simply observing your parents’ fears and adopting their attitude toward dentists; believe it or not, there is evidence that being afraid of dental treatment could actually have a genetic basis.
A separate but related problem – a fear of pain – can also be inherited. Researchers believe it is the same genes that play a role in the fear of pain that can influence a fear of the dentist.
Is it estimated that 10 to 20 percent of American adults experience a significant dental care-related fear. The British Dental Health Foundation’s dental helpline gets calls from people who are trying to cope with excruciating toothache pain because they are too scared to go to the dentist. Dental adviser Karen Coates reports that it is not unusual for the helpline to hear from people in their 30s who have not gone to the dentist since they were children.
A West Virginia University study used family cohort data in its novel approach to studying the heritability of this problem, and the results could lead to improvements in dental care for all patients, especially those who suffer from this debilitating fear.
The researchers found that in addition to the genetic component, environmental factors also play a role. Many people with a fear of the dentist had a bad experience in childhood, for example, when dental techniques were quite different from modern practices.
Dentists can help alleviate these fears by taking steps like hiring polite and friendly staff, adopting a good “bedside manner,” and filling their walls with soothing artwork. Many dentists keep instruments out of sight to avoid causing panic, and play background music to help obscure the anxiety-inducing sound of drills and other tools.
Avoiding the dentist
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who has a fear of the dentist, you’ll want to do everything you can to keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible so you can keep your trips to the dentist to a minimum. Thankfully, there are plenty of natural treatments that can help you achieve optimum oral health. Brushing and flossing, for example, are simple, and can do a lot more than just prevent gum disease, bad breath and cavities. Studies have found that having healthy gums and teeth can reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease, and can even prevent memory loss, which is a big concern with today’s rising levels of Alzheimer’s. You can clean and polish your teeth and soothe gum inflammation easily and naturally with the help of baking soda.
Some people like to swish coconut oil in their mouths. Known as oil pulling, this process takes advantage of oil’s superior ability to penetrate the tiny crevices in your teeth and gums. After swishing for several minutes to allow it to draw out toxins, the oil should simply be spat out into the sink.
Going to the dentist might be unnerving, but sound oral hygiene practices can help you keep this ordeal to the minimum.