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What to do if the fear of the dentist becomes a disease
Millions of people in Germany are terrified of the dentist. The very thought of the treatment causes them health problems. But those affected can be helped. Experts explain what helps best against dental phobia.
Five million Germans with dental phobia
Nobody will say that they like to go to the dentist. But there are also people who are really afraid of such treatment. "In Germany alone there are about 5 million people with dental treatment phobia", the German Society for Dental Treatment Phobia® (DGZP) writes on its website. Many of them therefore do not go to the dentist at all. But there are some things that can help those affected.
The fear of the dentist can be so bad that it is pathological.
This can have serious consequences:
"In the case of a dental treatment phobia, those affected do not even appear in the practice and often for many years," explains the specialist dentist for oral surgery, Prof. Peter Jöhren, in a message from the dpa news agency.
According to the German Dental Association (BZÄK), about five to ten percent of people in Germany are affected by a dental treatment phobia.
With this psychosomatic anxiety disorder, those affected panic if they even think about visiting the dentist.
"This can manifest itself, for example, in the form of sweats, rapid heartbeat, dizziness and circulatory problems", the senior doctor at the Clinic for Tooth Conservation, Preventive and Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Bern Thomas Wolf told the dpa.
There are several causes for fear. "It is often the pain experienced before, during and after dental treatment that leads to avoidance in affected patients," explains Jöhren, the head of the dental clinic in Bochum.
In one study, 86 percent of the affected patients stated that they had had traumatic experiences in the treatment chair - 70 percent of them did this in childhood.
Untreated inflamed teeth can be dangerous
So what to do about the fear of dental treatment?
You can try to ensure that toothache does not occur at all by regular care, but if it does, you have to act.
After all, inflamed teeth that have not been treated for a long period of time can have fatal consequences. "Serious acute and chronic diseases are possible," explains BZÄK Vice President Prof. Dietmar Oesterreich in the agency report.
As explained there, bacteria can penetrate deeply into the jawbone beyond the affected tooth. And the bloodstream can sometimes lead to life-threatening inflammation in the body.
Help from the psychotherapist
This makes it clear that the phobia itself must be treated. "But this is not the job of dentists, but of trained psychotherapists," said Wolf.
An anxiety patient can be placed under acute sedation or under general anesthesia in the case of acute pain, which makes dental therapy impossible to delay.
However, according to Austria, general anesthesia "should only be carried out with acute treatment." After all, the phobia is not overcome in this way.
The patient can only achieve this with the help of a psychotherapist, for example, as part of an anti-anxiety training in which those affected are carefully introduced to the situation at the dentist.
"At the first meeting, it is important to use information and empathy to rebuild the trust that the dentist has often lost in the patient," says Jöhren.
The attending physician should inquire sensitively about the wishes of the patient and note them down so that they are not forgotten.
"It helps some patients, for example, if they listen to their favorite music through headphones during treatment or simply relax music in the background," says Wolf, dpa.
Thanks to modern procedures, pain-free dental treatments are possible anyway. Some also make drills and fillings unnecessary.
"In order for psychotherapy to be successful in the long term, it is crucial that the patient does not have any bad experiences with the dental treatments," says Jöhren.
According to the expert, even the smallest violations of the agreements between therapist, dentist or patient can lead to renewed defensive behavior. "The promise of pain-free treatment must never be broken," said Jöhren. (ad)