The odontophobia is one of the types of specific phobia best known today. It is characterized by an extremely high and excessive fear towards visits to the dentist.
Although there are no specific data on the prevalence of this disorder, a recent survey showed that odontophobia could be one of the main causes why Spaniards do not go to the dentist.
In order to properly understand this alteration, it is important to emphasize that odontophobia is defined by the experimentation of a phobic fear every time you go to the dentist.
In this way, it should be differentiated from the displeasure, nervousness or uncertainty that many people can witness when they go to this type of visits.
In order to specify the characteristics of odontophobia, this article discusses its main properties, the symptomatology of the disorder, the causes that lead to the development of psychopathology and the interventions that must be performed to treat it properly.
Characteristics of odotophobia
Odontofobia is a term that is used in abundance in a popular way to define the fear of going to the dentist.
In the field of health, dental visits are those that cause a greater repair and greater nervousness about users.
However, we must bear in mind that when we talk about odontophobia we do not refer to manifestations or states of nonspecific anxiety.
In fact, odontophobia is an anxiety disorder correctly cataloged in the diagnostic and statistical manual of psychiatry.
It consists of a specific type of phobia in which, evidently, the element feared is the medical visit.
Fear causes a marked response of anxiety in the person each time he is exposed to his feared stimulus. Likewise, it also originates the most common behavior associated with the disorder: the avoidance of visits to the dentist.
Both the fear and the anxiety response related to odontophobia must fulfill a series of characteristics to be attributed to the disorder.
Thus, not all feelings of nervousness, anxiety or reparation made to the dentist should be included within this diagnosis.
The fear of odontophobia
The experience of fear is a very common response among people. Fear of dental visits is also quite frequent.
Often dental interventions are associated with painful experiences, unpleasant sensations or annoying stimulation.
For this reason, it is relatively normal to present a certain amount of difficulty when going to the dentist. Having to perform a complex intervention on the teeth is not a good taste for anyone, which is why many people choose to go to the dentist as often as possible.
However, odontophobia does not refer to this type of attitude about visits to the dentist. In order to be able to detail the presence of this psychological alteration, the fear experienced must be differentiated from adaptive or normal fear.
Specifically, the fear that is present in odontophobia is characterized by being phobic. In order to determine that a fear has such particularities, it must present the following aspects:
The fear response of the person with odontophobia is excessive and totally exaggerated in relation to the demands of the situation.
Thus, nerves prior to a painful dental intervention can be interpreted as normal and congruent.
For these nerves can be attributed to odontophobia the fear must be excessive and not address the situation of damage or real pain.
The excessive intensity of fear can be slightly ambiguous, since there are no unequivocal patterns that allow establishing what reaction of fear is adapted and what is not.
In fact, this first evaluation is highly subjective, so in some cases it may be insufficient to dictate the presence or absence of odontophobia.
However, this second characteristic of phobic fear is much more clarifying.
The fear experienced by a person with odontophobia is characterized unequivocally by being totally irrational. This means that the fear of the dentist is not supported by rational and coherent thought processes.
Even more, the person with odontophobia is totally incapable of justifying in a consistent way why visits to the dentist produce such high sensations of fear.
Given the nerves and “normal” fears that are experienced prior to the visit to the dentist, the person usually retains a certain degree of control. The individual is able to manage his fear and ensure that it does not affect him completely.
In odontophobia, however, the subject has no capacity to control his fear of the dentist. These sensations appear automatically without the individual being able to do anything. It is an unconscious and involuntary process.
Leads to the avoidance of the dreaded situation
Another important characteristic that allows us to define the fear related to odontophobia is that it leads, practically on all occasions, to the avoidance of the feared stimulus.
The person with odontophobia is totally unable to expose himself and face his feared stimulus, so he will perform all the necessary behaviors to avoid going to the dentist.
At certain times people may be more reluctant to go to the dentist. After a painful intervention or an unpleasant experience the fear may increase.
However, in odontophobia, fear is characterized by being persistent. This does not depend on specific stages or specific moments.
An individual with odontophobia will fear going to the dentist in an intense, irrational and uncontrollable way permanently. And he will not stop doing it if his psychological alteration is not properly intervened.
The symptomatology of odontophobia can be grouped into three main categories: physical manifestations, cognitive manifestations and behavioral manifestations.
All of them are originated by the fear that causes the visit to the dentist. In this way, they are symptoms of anxiety that appear in relation to the phobic fear that the person presents.
In fact, if the feared stimuli do not appear, no manifestation of anxiety has to appear.
Thus, if there were no dentists or dental interventions, both the fear and the symptoms of the disease would never appear.
Obviously, the pathology becomes more serious when the person requires greater exposure to the dentist. That is, when it presents the need to undergo odontological interventions.
In this way, odontophobia can be a very disturbing disorder in individuals who have good dental health, but it can be a much more serious psychopathology in subjects that require some type of intervention.
The physical symptomatology responds to an increase in the activity of the central nervous system. The person with odontofobia undergoes a series of changes in their bodily functioning whenever they go to a dental visit.
These manifestations are easily and clearly associated with a state of high anxiety. Although the symptoms may vary slightly in each case, the physical signs that a person with odontophobia may experience are:
a) Increase in the cardiac rate
The functioning of the heart is accelerated, the blood is pumped with greater intensity and can lead to palpitations that alter the psychological state of the person.
b) Increase in the respiratory rate
In parallel, breathing usually accelerates. The individual may hyperventilate and suffer from feelings of suffocation.
c) Muscular tension
The fear of the dentist causes the tension of the whole body to intensify. The muscles are more rigid and stressed.
d) Increase sweating
Similarly, the body of a person with odontophobia increases their sweating when exposed to a visit to the dentist. Cold sweats and generalized body agitation may appear.
e) Pupillary dilation
It is one of the least detectable symptoms and that less anguish they generate in the person. However, the body responds to the sensation of fear with a notable dilation of the pupils of the eye to increase visual acuity.
f) Headaches and / or stomach
The tension that the body experiences can easily lead to painful sensations. The two regions most susceptible to experiencing pain are the head and stomach. Also, nausea, vomiting and dizziness may be experienced.
Parallel to physical manifestations, when the subject with odontophobia is exposed to their feared stimuli develops a series of thoughts about dental interventions.
These cognitions tend to be intense and are characterized by the extremely negative attribution of all aspects related to dentistry and dentistry.
Thoughts like the high damage or pain that can be experienced during a dental intervention or the few personal capacities to cope with this situation would be some examples.
As with the characterization of the phobic fear of the disorder, these thoughts are highly irrational and incongruent. However, the person with odontophobia is not able to avoid them and they get all their attention.
Finally, odontophobia significantly affects the behavior of the individual. Avoidance is the main behavioral symptom of this disorder.
In this way, the subject with odontophobia will always avoid exposure to a dentist, even in contexts in which the visit to the dentist is highly necessary.
For example, an individual with odontofobia can resist greatly to go to the dentist when he suffers from a dental pathology that gives rise to high sensations of pain.
For a person with this alteration, nothing creates as much discomfort as dental visits. For this reason, avoidance behaviors are also common in people who experience painful sensations as a result of not going to the dentist.
When the exposure to the feared element can not be avoided and the subject with odontophobia goes to the dentist, another behavioral symptom may appear: escape.
People with this psychopathology will feel enormous needs to escape when they are on a dental visit, so it is common that they do not resist the discomfort that originates the dentist and end up leaving before the intervention.
The etiology of this type of specific phobia has been consistently associated with the mechanisms by which people learn and develop fears.
In this sense, the idea of multifacotriality in the appearance of odontophobia is maintained. However, genetic symptoms seem to play a secondary role.
The three factors that have shown a greater correlation with the development of the disorder refer to the conditioning of fear. These are:
In the first place, the conditioning that presents a greater potential in the acquisition of phobic fear to the dentist is the classic one. That is, the experience of direct experiences related to dental visits.
Thus, having lived through traumatic experiences in dental visits as highly painful interventions or poor resolutions of dental problems can play a fundamental role in the development of odontophobia.
However, not all people who suffer from this psychopathology must have previously experienced negative experiences.
On the other hand, having visualized unpleasant images and interpreted as traumatic in relation to visits with the dentist can also condition the phobic fear of dental interventions.
Images of very damaged teeth or situations of people experiencing pain during the intervention of the dentist would be some examples.
Finally, receiving negative information about the dentist through oral transmission can also contribute to the acquisition of odontophobia.
Having relatives with fear of the dentist who express concerns and fears about this type of interventions or listen to narratives about traumatic experiences would be some examples.
The psychotherapy is undoubtedly the first choice for treatment of odontophobia intervene. The application of different psychological techniques allows us to overcome phobic fears and reverse psychopathology.
The most effective treatments are those based on exposure. That is, in approaching the individual with odontofobia to different elements related to dental interventions: visits to the dentist, images of treatments, etc.
Also Read: Neophobia: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments
The controlled exposure to the feared elements allows the person to get used to them and overcome their fears. Likewise, relaxation techniques are applied to reduce the level of anxiety and facilitate the process.