Dental phobia should be recognized as a mental health problem.
Dental phobia is more than just a fear of the dentist. I know, because I have to deal with it. I'm not talking about the mild anxiety that some feels when sitting in a hall to face an exam either. I'm talking about the awful panic, nervousness, sweats, feeling sick and extreme fear which can start even before you step through the door of a dental surgery.
I need to have root canals, fillings, and some of my teeth out. My teeth got into this state because of other trauma's that I have been through. When I was a child, I could visit a dentist and have a filling with no problems, even though I was a little scared of the dental drill, and I have a fear of needles. However, when I was seventeen, I visited a dentist who was violent with me and verbally abusive, ever since then I have had dental phobia.
My phobia is not just associated with a fear of visiting the dentist, it is more complicated than that. I have a deep fear of the dental drill. I cannot cope with the noise, even though it is minimum, and I cannot cope with the vibration against my teeth. These issues, cause me to sweat, panic and become anxious, to a point where I have pushed the drill out of my mouth on more than one occasion. However, I did use a code to warn the dentist about how I was feeling before he started the treatment, but he ignored that code.
I have some roots which are caused by some broken teeth, and they are quite sore. To have these treated, means I have to be sedated. However, there are two other fears which are very deep rooted that cause me some complications with this. One is the fact that in order to sedate me involves the use of needles, which I already have a phobia of, and although I might not feel it go in and may be painless, that does not stop my fear from taking over. I can become so panicked over this fear, that I do not even get to my appointment before it takes over. The other is a fear of being put to sleep and not waking up. I had a C-section of which was very traumatic, my blood pressure dropped quite severely, and I lost a lot of blood. I almost did not wake up to see my new baby after that C-section, and ever since I have had a fear of being put to sleep.
Some of these fears started in childhood, however they did get worse after I was abused by my past dentist. These fears can be mild, such as mild anxiety, to intense feelings of panic, nervousness, shaking, sweating, and even tears and being sick.
There is not a lot of support for dental phobia, because it is not recognized as a mental health problem. However, many of the psychological and physical symptoms it causes are similar to those symptoms within the diagnosis of a mental health problem such as anxiety, shaking and sweating which can occur with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many people who have dental phobia, do also have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some of these people have been through trauma such as violence and rape, and some have also faced abuse from a previous dentist.
I struggle to find a dentist that can cope with the mental state that I get into when I visit. It is important that a person in my position has a dentist who understands dental phobia and mental health, and I was shocked to find that the majority of dentists are not trained in this area. I understand that the idea of dentistry, is to help look after peoples teeth. However teeth and gum health although physical, and still having the ability to cause more severe conditions like gum disease or cancer, is viewed as less important than mental health or biological and physical conditions. I asked my doctor and my mental health team for help with the phobia, and my doctor told me that only a dentist could help me, while my mental health team told me that they do not deal with such issues, which I think is disgusting for several reasons. A dentist is trained to understand that healthy gums and teeth are important. However, how can they help people with difficult phobias if they do not have the training in mental health to deal with it. A doctor can refer someone for help with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, yet they cannot refer someone to a professional who can help with dental phobia, and I think that this problem is because it is not recognized as a mental health problem. A community mental health team treat a wide range of mental health conditions, yet they do not have the resources to treat dental phobia. If dental phobia was recognized as a mental health problem in the DSM-IV, which is the manual that recognized mental health problems are listed in, then treatment would be made available for dental phobia, and many vulnerable people would have the support they need to enable them to take care of their dental needs.
It is really important that Dental phobia becomes recognized as a mental health problem in the future. There are many others like myself, who may be reading this and nodding their heads as likewise, they may be experiencing pain with both their gums and teeth, yet still be too fearful to see the dentist. There are also probably many sat there saying "If they won't see a dentist, the pain can't be that bad." Let me tell you something, the pain really IS 'that bad.' However, the fear of visiting the dentist can be so bad, it can in fact out rule the pain coming from the gums and the teeth. If people with dental phobia were given more support, and dentists, community mental health teams and doctors were able to work together to help these people, it would be really helpful and encouraging to a point where people with the phobia were able to overcome it.