Dreading the Drill? Therapy Can Ease Dental Phobia
It makes sense to Rothbaum, who directs the trauma and anxiety recovery program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "The truth of the matter is, I don't think anyone really likes going to the dentist. So it's not that you completely switch and say, 'Oh I love this.' But you can get over the excessive fear that might keep you from going."
In nearly 20 years of practice, she says, "I've treated people with almost every kind of phobia you can think of. Most phobias are highly treatable in two sessions."
With dental phobia, therapy might focus on the drill, she explains. "We focus on whatever it is that bothers them. If they're avoiding it completely, you help them learn to relax more, feel more comfortable with it.
"If they're just really uptight, you want to do exactly what these researchers did, teach them a package of anxiety management techniques. Besides the relaxation therapy, try cognitive therapy techniques -- coping thoughts, coping self-statements -- rather than 'Oh my God, this is going to hurt so much' it's 'I can handle this one step at a time. I can do this for my dental health and hygiene,'" says Rothbaum.
Nelson, of Atlanta's Mercer University School of Medicine, describes a typical cognitive therapy session. "You imagine you're in the dentist's chair, imagine the drill, imagine the needle. In an actual desensitization session, the psychiatrist may show you pictures, 'walk you' into the imaginary dental chair," says Nelson.
Is a tranquilizer necessary? Generally, no, Rothbaum tells WebMD. "If they're coming to me for a couple sessions of treatment, they probably don't need medications. If they do, something like this, a short-acting tranquilizer, is the way to go."