Licensed Professional Counselor
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Are You Struggling with Fear, Anxiety, or a Phobia About Visiting the Dentist?

Possibly you've experienced a sense of uneasiness about a scheduled dental appointment, or maybe you feel terrified at the thought of visiting the dentist. Other indicators of dental fear or phobia include:

  • Avoiding the scheduling of a dental appointment
  • Feeling physically ill at the thought of going to the dentist
  • Experiencing difficulties sleeping the night before a dental exam
  • Nervousness in the dental office waiting room
  • Intense discomfort when experiencing (or just thinking about) dental objects placed in your mouth
  • Fear of needles, injections, or anesthetic side-effects

If the thought of visiting the dentist makes you cringe, you're not alone. It's estimated that at least 10-15% of Americans avoid the dentist due to fear and anxiety.

You may wonder about the cause of your dental fear.

If you're like most people, the cause of your dental fear is a past traumatic dental experience, typically occurring at an early age. For example, having experienced:

  • Painful or uncomfortable dental work
  • Dental work without Novocain
  • An uncaring or insensitive dentist
  • Being embarrassed or humiliated by a dentist about your fear or pain
  • Feeling hopeless or out of control when the dentist was working on you

Aside from traumatic dental experiences, there are other factors that contribute to dental anxiety, which include:

  • Anxiety or panic disorder
  • Claustrophobia, agoraphobia, or other types of phobia
  • Physical or emotional abuse by an authority figure
  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Any negative experience where you were forced to give up your personal control
  • Hearing horror stories about the dentist when you were a child
  • Feeling self-conscious about the appearance of your teeth and/or mouth odor

Obviously, avoiding the dentist is not a good long-term solution, especially since minor dental concerns can develop into more severe problems over time. Furthermore, new research draws a connection between dental problems and other health problems such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and complications with pregnancy.

Trauma can play a key role in dental fear, dental anxiety, and dental phobia.

The difference between a stressful situation and a traumatic experience is that trauma overwhelms you and thus easily becomes "stuck" in your nervous system. So if you've experienced a past traumatic dental experience (or other related trauma), the unresolved feelings and symptoms from that experience can easily get re-activated when you're visiting, or even planning to visit, the dentist.

Fortunately, there are ways to address dental fears. In the work that I do, my goals are to help you to:

  1. Resolve the past dental trauma that is at the source of your current dental fears.
  2. Neutralize the "triggers" that increase your anxiety about the dentist.
  3. Establish a new, positive "template" around visiting the dentist, strengthened with positive resources such as calmness, control, and confidence.

The first goal is to release any old traumas that are fueling your dental fear. For this, I use EMDR ( Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which is a therapy approach used to overcome the challenging impact of trauma, anxiety, fear, and phobia. EMDR has successfully been used in the counseling and therapy field for over 20 years.

The second goal is to release any "triggers" that increase your dental fear, anxiety, or phobia. Examples include:

  • Imagining a dental office
  • The smells of a dental office
  • The sound of the drill or other dental equipment
  • Having dental instruments in your mouth
  • Poking and prodding in your mouth
  • Bright lights in the exam room
  • Laying down in the dental chair

The third goal is to establish a positive template around your next dental visit. EMDR can be used to strengthen important resources, or skills, including:

  • Calmness
  • Confidence and courage
  • Deep breathing
  • Relaxing imagery
  • A sense of control and being in charge
  • Feeling comfortable asserting your needs
  • Learning how to observe, instead of identify, with uncomfortable sensations and thoughts

Once you have established these important resources, they can be drawn upon to establish a new, positive template of how you will look, feel, act, think, and behave the next time you are at the dentist.

To view clinical research on the effectiveness of EMDR for Dental Phobia, please click the following link:

"Efficacy of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing in the Treatment of Specific Phobias: Four Single-Case Studies on Dental Phobia."

For many, dental fear, anxiety, and phobia can seem insurmountable. In many instances though, this problem is the result of specific past traumas. In these cases, addressing these traumas and triggers as well as developing a positive template can help to increase confidence and comfort around your dental experience.

For Counseling in Portland, feel free to call me today at (503) 887-3309, email me, or use my Contact Form to book a counseling session or to set up a FREE consultation.

Office located in NW Portland, Oregon. Serving the Portland metro area, including Beaverton, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego, Tigard, West Linn, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Tualatin, Gresham, and Vancouver, WA.

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