A fear of visiting the dentist can be debilitating. We spoke with Dr. Louis Siegelman, who helps in treating such patients, about what he calls dental phobia — and how to treat it.
Dental phobia can be an extremely debilitating fear. Those who experience it may avoid simple maintenance trips to their dentist, which over time can cause otherwise avoidable problems that require the very treatment the patient dreads. The good news is that this is often a learned reflex, meaning that with the right care, it can be overcome.
Often, this fear can be rooted in some traumatic experience, but certain predispositions can effect how this shows up once in the dentist’s chair. Triggers for the phobia can include: difficulty with local anesthesia, panic issues and a sensitive gag reflex. For some, the sights, sounds and smells of a dentist’s office can prompt the nervous system to elicit responses that make it difficult or impossible for hygienists to do their job.
It’s no surprise, then, that patients with this fear may avoid the dentist for many years, and for some, even decades. The routine actions of a cleaning go unchecked and what started as minor issues compound to bigger problems over time. Add to this the feelings of shame and embarrassment about their oral condition, and the reasons to avoid the dentist — and fix these problems — make for a compelling argument not to address one’s dental health. Such patients are very much aware of their needs, but often feel it’s impossible to get dental care because of their overwhelming fear.
“It is extremely important to be positive, and not personally critical of the patients situation,” says Dr. Louis Siegelman, a renowned dental fear/dental phobia general dentist in Manhattan. “Often, people ask me what techniques I use to treat my patients. The essence is to listen to the patient, determine their concerns and design a plan of care that addresses their needs.”
Dr. Siegelman has spent time learning the special needs of dental-phobic patients. He starts with short-term attainable goals, such as a chat on the phone and 2 part consultation. Jumping right into a dental-care plan that will ultimately be abandoned, he’s found, can reinforce the negative feelings in place. The first step is to get the patient to a point where they can accept basic dentistry and achieve a clean and healthy mouth. Then, more sophisticated procedures can be planned. Dr. Siegelman will then communicate this plan with his patients.
But the treatment, Dr. Siegelman knows, is not limited to the chair. He has taken care to staff his office with personnel who are prepared to help dental-phobic patients with their very specific needs. Anxious patients may often change appointments, have frequent emergencies, and require substantial emotional support. Additionally, any sedatives employed in their plan of care require especially important safety procedures.
Dr. Siegelman admits that this is all very different than what it takes to set up your typical dentist’s office. But, he says, “The feedback I get from patients is professionally satisfying, and makes all the effort worthwhile.” He’s found patients with restored oral health to say their lives are changed. The regained confidence of a healthy mouth affects their personal relationships, careers and self esteem.
Dr. Louis Siegelman’s practice is in Midtown Manhattan. Visit dentalphobia.com or call 212.974.8737 to learn more.
Last modified: July 27, 2017