Anxiety about going to the dentist is quite common. There is a range of feelings about it, from just being a bit nervous, to feeling as though you might have a panic attack, to fear strong enough that you completely avoid going to the dentist at all.
There are lots of possible reasons for why a person develops a fear of dentists. Some people have had a bad dental experience as a child, or as an adult had a painful appointment. Others may also have a very sensitive nervous system that translates discomfort that would feel mild for other people into a feeling of severe pain.
Some people who have a strong fear of dental visits have a history of childhood physical or sexual abuse. Often they won't make the connection between the abuse they experienced, and why they have a fear of dental appointments. On an unconscious level, a dental appointment can evoke a lot of similar feelings and "body memories" to the prior abuse. For example, a person may feel helpless, may be frightened of being "confined" in the dental chair, or may have a fear of things being placed in their mouths or over their face. For some people, the physical proximity of the dentist may be scary, and they may also worry that the dentist is going to be angry. These reactions can be very strong; in fact, even reading this may be triggering if you've experienced certain types of abuse.
Some people with dental phobias also have similar fears about surgeries, doctor visits, or other situations where they feel restrained or not in control. These too may be avoided, which can result in serious health problems not getting treatment. Even though some dental offices will offer to address the problem with "twilight sleep" or other sedation, there are many people who feel even more afraid of the idea of being "asleep" during dental or other medical procedures.
Whatever the causes are for dental anxiety or phobias, there are several ways to address it in therapy. For some people, results will happen very quickly, and for others it may take a bit more time. Two very effective treatment techniques involve hypnotherapy or EMDR.
Hypnosis is a way of learning relaxation and anxiety management. It can be extremely effective as a way of learning coping skills. Contrary to what is seen on television, clinical hypnotherapy doesn't involve any sort of loss of control. Instead, it is a way of learning "self-hypnosis", and is very empowering. There is more information about hypnosis here.
EMDR is a highly effective method of treating trauma, including trauma resulting from previous painful office visits, childhood physical abuse, or sexual abuse. If dental anxiety is a result of what is called a "single incident trauma", meaning a one-time event in an otherwise healthy person, treatment may be very quick, although of course this can't be guaranteed. If the root causes are more complicated, then naturally treatment will take longer. EMDR is effective because it a way to get at the root of the problem and basically "clear out" the old trauma. You can read more about EMDR here.
When you are ready, please feel free to contact me by phone at 805-583-3976 x 333, and we can discuss your situation more personally. If you like, please take a look at some of my brochures, and take a look at our offices. You can also view a list of my professional organization memberships. If you prefer, you may contact viemail