Just about everyone is afraid of something. Some of us are terrified of snakes. Others are afraid of spiders. Some people are scared of dogs.

Symptoms of fear are natural reactions to something that causes the brain to send a warning signal. For example, if a mean dog bit you when you were a child, your brain remembers the fright that came with the experience. For some people, this fright is stored in the brain. So, every time they see a dog (or a certain breed), the memory of the episode triggers a surge of reactions.

Reacting to something uncomfortable or fearful can come in different forms. The heart rate may speed up, perspiration may become obvious, the breath can become shallow, and the muscles may tense.

When an individual has a fear of dentistry, there can be various levels of fear. Some people have a sense of dread while others are downright antsy. For some, dental fear can cause them to perceive pain even before their treatment has begun.

Dental fear is often the result of a traumatic experience in the past. Sadly, many occurrences stem from being in the hands of a rough dentist or one who continued without full numbness. Because the gums and teeth are laden with tender nerves, the pain that can occur without proper numbing is unique. And, yes – it can be very memorable.

For adults who have high levels of dental fear, the reactions can include a racing heartbeat, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, and even crying. As a dentist, I’ve seen this can include grown men who have fought in wars. Dental fear has no bias when it comes to age or gender (although females have shown to have somewhat higher levels of dental fear than males – or, perhaps are merely more open to admitting these fears).

Past studies show that dental anxiety affects nearly 30 percent of the adult population and approximately 43 percent of children. Many experts suspect that this number is low, especially when researchers look at specific demographics.

Fear of dental visits is a major concern in the U.S., a country that has the most advanced standards in health care in the world. There are also concerns regarding equality when it comes to dental health. In a report published by the Centers For Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) entitled the “National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011–2012”, key findings included:

  • Among adults aged 20–64, 91 percent had cavities and 27 percent had untreated tooth decay.
  • Untreated tooth decay was higher for Hispanics (36 percent) and Blacks (42 percent) with Whites having only 22 percent and Asians with just 17 percent.
  • Adults between the ages of 20 and 39 were twice as likely to have all their natural teeth (67 percent) compared with adults in the 40 to 64 age group (34 percent).
  • Among adults aged 65 and over, complete tooth loss was lower for Hispanics (15 percent) and Whites (17 percent) compared with older Blacks (29 percent).

Growing up and watching my Father’s compassion as a dentist (Dr. Larry Pampel), I understand the obstacles that dental fears can cause. Fearful adults may avoid dental care until something hurts so badly they are forced into a dental office for relief. Some of these individuals try to be regular but are ‘white-knuckled’ in the treatment chair for the duration of their visits.

Although we offer sedatives for patients with high levels of anxiety or fear, I have found, over time, the best ‘solution’ is building trust. Usually, within a few visits, a once-fearful patient begins to relax. Once they realize that our goal is to protect their comfort and move at a pace that is reassuring to their concerns, fear often dissipates or lulls to a level that greatly reduces their fear symptoms.

Your smile is much more than a part of your ability to eat and your appearance. While everyone wants to have a beautiful, flattering smile, having regular dental involvement may be more important than you realize.

Over the past few decades, research has shown an intricate correlation between the oral bacteria of periodontal (gum) disease and serious health problems. Diseases such a coronary artery disease, diabetes, arthritis, and some cancers have been linked to this potent bacterial source.

If you have a hard time imagining walking into a dental office without fear or anxiety, WE can imagine it for you, because we’ve seen it over and over. We have a large number of patients who were once fearful, and some even “scared to death,” who now are relaxed and at ease throughout their dental appointment.

Let us help you become one of them! Call 219-987-5733 to schedule a free consultation. During this time, we’ll sit in a private consultation room to discuss your particular concerns. I’ll explain ways we can help you ease into the care you need (and the smile you desire!) while feeling comfortable and relaxed.

Don’t let fear compromise your smile’s appearance or your health. We are here when you’re ready!