Fear of Choking & Dental Phobia


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Choking can be an immensely traumatic experience as it is basically a blockage of your windpipe, leaving you unable to breathe and in serious risk. The fear of choking is, therefore, a perfectly understandable one, and when in the context of dental phobia, can keep anybody out of the dentist’s chair.

Choking and dental phobia

As going to the dentist involves allowing someone – albeit a trained professional – to look at, touch and treat your mouth. It is therefore perhaps understandable that a dental phobia is sometimes born out of a fear of choking whilst undergoing examination and treatment. The truth is that most dentists are experienced practitioners who will conduct an examination or treatment safely, but the fear of choking can lead to a feeling of suffocation. or trigger a gag reflex that might make you feel as if you are choking. This can exacerbate a fear of choking, and can also be a serious risk during a procedure as a patient may start moving or panicking in the chair. On a different level, the fear of choking can keep many people from attending much needed dental appointments, leading to a steady decline in oral hygiene that can have serious and painful consequences.

What causes a fear of choking?

A fear of choking can often be connected to previous traumatic experiences. These can include violent encounters, an obstruction caused by choking on food, abuse, or an incident involving near drowning.  If you have a limited diet or food phobias, they may often have a sensitive gag reflex and thus be nervous about going to the dentist where it is likely that something may be placed in their mouth, triggering that gag reflex. For someone with a fear of choking, a scenario where you have your mouth filled with dental tools and equipment can lead to nerves and panic; and you might feel as if you are unable to breathe, which is undoubtedly an extremely unpleasant sensation. This is one fear where the environment of a dental surgery alone can also trigger or worsen the phobia.

Treating the fear of choking

During dental procedures it is not uncommon for your mouth to fill with saliva. If you suffer from a fear of choking or a sensitive gag reflex, this can be extremely uncomfortable and lead to a feeling of suffocation and anxiety. If this is the case, then the first step is to simply communicate with your dentist. Explain to them that you suffer from a phobia, or if you don’t feel like divulging that information, just ask them to use either a lot of suction or to clear your mouth on your signal. Your dentist will be happy to oblige as keeping you comfortable is important for both your safety and health and the dentist’s ability to conduct a treatment safely.

If you are worried about choking on a dentist’s equipment, then you can ask them to use a tool called the rubber dam. This is designed to protect your throat from unwanted contact, and is simply a sheet of latex placed in your mouth in such a way as to shield your throat. Another stimulus for the fear of choking can be the position of the dentist’s chair. If too far back, it can trigger a choking feeling, again the solution for this problem is a simple one, just talk to your dentist about your discomfort and what they can do to make it better.

Some of the causes of choking, like an experience of physical abuse for example, will need a more complicated treatment. Victims of abuse suffer from any number of post-traumatic stresses, and if you fit into this category, then seeking help from your GP and a counsellor is the best course of action for you.


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