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Medical & Dental Phobias: Fearing That Which Can Save You

By August 31, 2017November 19th, 2020Blogs, Dr. Jenny Yip

Do you feel queasy when having to get your blood drawn? Does the thought of a dental procedure make you want to run? If so, you’re not alone. Medical and dental phobias affect over 30 million people in America, and include fears of blood, medical/dental procedures, needles, surgery, hospitals, and medical personnel. These fears often begin in childhood between ages 5 and 9, and perpetuate throughout adulthood. Although it’s natural to fear blood or sharp objects, having a medical or dental phobia can actually threaten your health. How would you know whether you have a rational fear or irrational phobia?
Medical and dental phobias are serious problems, because they deter you from getting the medical and dental attention you need, which can be a health risk. Many individuals with a medical or dental phobia will avoid doctors, dentists, or medical/dental procedures until severe pain sets in. Even then, some people will continue to avoid the necessary medical/dental care out of severe fear until their condition deteriorates to the point where more invasive treatments are required.

For instance, individuals suffering from dental phobia who avoid regular dental care are at higher risks for oral bacterial buildup and periodontal disease. This can result in a whole host of other health problems, including heart disease. Furthermore, many people with dental phobia will resort to unnecessary intravenous sedation for even simple dental cleanings, which can increase the health threat to the sufferer.
The discomfort a person with medical or dental phobia experiences varies from distressing anxiety to intense panic and terror. Sufferers often feel as if they are about to die, lose control, or do something embarrassing. They attempt to delay or avoid the procedure altogether, or they feel intensely anxious while ruminating over the upcoming procedure. Most of all, they feel an overpowering urge to escape the dire situation out of sheer fear for their life.
So back to the question: How would you know whether you have a rational fear or irrational phobia? In summary, if you continue to get regular medical/dental care despite feeling uneasy during the visit or procedure, then the problem is minor. However, if you avoid medical/dental care at all cost, then you likely have a medical or dental phobia and are putting your health at risk.
If you happen to be one of the many people who suffer from medical/dental phobias, effective treatment exists and is less daunting than what you might expect. At the Renewed Freedom Center, we help patients gradually confront fears in a step-wise manner to eliminate the phobic situation. This is called exposure therapy – a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which teaches you that the fears actually are not so threatening. In essence, exposure therapy will decrease the anticipatory anxiety of medical/dental procedures, ease your experience of a medical or dental phobia, and provide you with tools to manage fears that arise in a safe, simulated medical/dental situation.
According to a research study by the British Dental Journal, a single session of CBT can help individuals with severe dental phobia. Wouldn’t it be healthier to confront the avoided medical/dental situation rather than fearing that which can save you?