The Oral Health Foundation puts the number of adults in the UK exhibiting symptoms of dental anxiety at 10 million – a statistic that points to just how widespread the issue is in society today.

Dental anxiety relates to the accompanying fear, stress or anxiety that arises at the thought of sitting in the dental chair. The concern surrounding dental anxiety or fear stems from the negative impact the condition has on the person’s oral health that also poses a threat to physical health as well.

There are many triggers within the dental setting that can give rise to the fears that keep them away from seeking even much-needed professional dental interventions.

The interconnectedness of the body means that what happens in one area of the body, say the mouth, by not receiving professional dental care from a dentist, will have consequences for organs housed deep within the body.  

Understanding the threat of dental anxiety

The mouth is one area of the body that requires examinations to be carried out by a qualified dental practitioner to evaluate oral health on a regular basis. Signs and symptoms that foretell potential oral health problems with teeth and gums can go unnoticed by patients which are why having trained professionals conduct these assessments with appropriate dental tools is necessary.

When patients are scared of visiting the dental clinic and putting off routine oral health checks, they miss the golden opportunity to protect the integrity of their teeth and gums, and to a greater extent, their overall health.

The first consequence of this type of dental neglect directly affects teeth and gum health. It is a common problem that when patients forgo proper dental check-ups, they often find they require treatment to treat cavities, tooth decay and gum disease.

It is in the nature of dental problems that challenges arise in eating, speaking, smiling, socialising, working, playing, learning and sleeping – in fact due to the pain and discomfort caused by poor oral health, most everyday activities and tasks become difficult to accomplish.

In addition to the pain and discomfort, not being able to bite and chew properly, presents a threat of a different kind; a threat to physical health. In order to remain healthy and strong, the immune system needs to be supported with good nutrition which is not possible if a patient’s masticatory function is hindered by dental issues.

Another threat to physical health comes from poor oral hygiene which has deteriorated due to dental fear. Included in a dental check-up is a check on oral hygiene and, as is often carried out for most patients, professional dental cleanings. This procedure not only aids in the prevention of cavities and gum disease but improves oral hygiene by controlling the levels of bad bacteria in the mouth.

It is when bad oral bacteria overwhelms the mouth that there is an increased likelihood of this destructive microbiome finding its way into the body to wreak havoc on vulnerable organs like the heart and lungs. Researchers have linked bad oral bacteria to chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular disorders, stroke, pneumonia and some types of cancers.

If patients are held hostage by dental pain or lose the ability to smile or sleep or eat due to poor oral health problems brought on by lack of dental care, then it is not such a stretch of the imagination to see how dental anxiety can erode on quality of life.

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