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The very real problem of dental phobia

According to the Oral Health Foundation, a charity dedicated to improving oral health and wellbeing, more than 10 million UK adults experience some level of dental anxiety, with around 6 million people suffering from dental phobia. This equates to around one in five UK adults admitting that they are afraid or anxious about visiting the dentist.

Why do people suffer with dental phobia?

For some people, their dental phobia may have been picked up when they were a child from a nervous parent, who, probably subconsciously, passed on the fear to other members of the family. Their fear could also have been sparked originally by an early negative experience they had themselves. A British Dental Foundation survey in 2014 asked 2,000 UK adults about their childhood memories of the dentist; they found that eight out of ten answers were related to pain, fear, gas, injections and drilling.

Many people will attribute their high levels of dental anxiety to a previous bad experience they have had. This dental phobia could have been triggered by a time they were in pain at the dentist, creating a negative association, by something as simple as the noise of a drill, or perhaps even because they felt let down by a dentist or dental professional when undergoing treatment in the past. These bad experiences can spark off anxiety, which can grow and become more difficult to deal with or overcome, resulting in people staying away from the dentist altogether.

What impact does have a dental phobia have on our oral health?

Dental phobia is a very real problem in the UK. Having a genuine fear of visiting the dentist means that a person is significantly less likely to attend their practice regularly, and therefore their risk of developing dental problems may increases. Any issues are much less likely to be picked up in the early stages, compared to if they were a regular dental attendee.

People suffering from dental phobia are unlikely to visit their dentist at all unless as a last resort. By which point their oral health is likely to have been significantly affected if it has been many years since they last underwent even a check-up.

Only 51% of over 18s in England visited an NHS dentist in 2016 or 2017, meaning that nearly half UK adults did not see an NHS dentist at all during those two years.

Overcoming dental phobia

The NHS have a dedicated section on their website to tips for helping people to ease their dental anxiety. These include:

  • Find an understanding dentist with experience of helping dental phobic patients
  • Visit the surgery to look around before you commit
  • Pick an early morning appointment time – giving you less time to think about it on the day
  • Take a friend or family member with you
  • Agree a signal with your dentist that you want to take a break
  • Start with a clean/descale and polish rather than straight into any extensive treatment that may be required
  • Take music and headphones with you to listen to during the visit

If you, or someone you know, has undergone a bad experience and you feel that you have been let down by your dentist, and have suffered as a result, you may be eligible to make a compensation claim. Contact us to discuss your options or submit an online claim form.