Fear of dentist

In spite of the fact that dentists and dental clinicians are the nicest people in the world (we know more than a few), dental fear is still a real thing. Have you ever told someone you are afraid of something, and their response is, “Oh, that’s all in your head?” Well, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean your fear is something to dismiss.

Fear is an emotion that comes from your brain despite clever storytelling that depicts your heart at the center of your feelings. The psychology behind the fear of the dentist stems from multiple contributors. However, all these influences have in common that when a person feels their effect, these fears are real and impactful, especially when it leads to skipping appointments and dental treatment.

Let’s take a closer look at what dental fear is, what it isn’t and what you can do about it.

What is Dental Anxiety?

Another way to describe a patient’s fear of the dentist is dental anxiety. Many times, people use dental anxiety and dental fear interchangeably. Per Healthline, fear is a strong dislike of something that you might choose to avoid. However, unlike other forms of dental fear, dental anxiety is not something you think about all the time and possibly only experience when you are at the dental office. 

However, dental anxiety is not something that would keep you from going to the dentist. Instead, it probably means you aren’t looking forward to it, but you go because you know it’s essential to your oral and overall health.

Fear of the dentist

What is Dental Phobia?

Unlike dental anxiety, dental phobia, or dentophobia, is more intense. Like other phobias, it represents an extreme fear. While there are many types, people with dentophobia might experience fear of the dentist, the pain of treatment, the feeling of anesthetic (numbness), the sounds and smells of the dental office, or needles. People with a less intense dental phobia might fear only one of these areas, but people with extreme dentophobia might fear all five.   

Patients who experience dental phobia are likely to avoid dentists at all costs, to the detriment of their teeth and gums. Most will only go to a dentist under the direst of circumstances, when treatment is likely more involved and invasive (i.e., root canals, extractions, etc.). Unfortunately, the treatment necessary after avoiding regular visits can contribute to the cycle of fear.

How many people have a Fear of the Dentist

If you experience fear of the dentist, you are not alone. Nearly 40 percent of all people have dental fear or anxiety (36%), with a small percentage suffering from extreme worry (12%).

Why is Fear of the Dentist so Common?

The main psychological culprit of dental fear seems to come from past traumatic dental experiences, usually in childhood. One study in the Journal of Medical Principles and Practice  indicated that nearly half of the participants in a research study attributed their dental anxiety to something that happened in childhood. For example, if people had a bad experience with a dentist – a root canal, pulled tooth, or negative interactions with dental staff – when they were younger, those harrowing episodes can follow them as adults.

Another source of anxiety is fearing the sound of a dental drill, a numbing injection, or seeing blood. Also, Hearing loved ones’ negative experiences or seeing dental visits depicted as unpleasant in TV shows, movies and advertisements can reinforce that notion

There are three other prevalent contributors to dental anxiety and fear of the dentist. Some people fear pain during treatment, perhaps based on an experience. Others don’t like needles or worry that the anesthesia won’t work well enough on them before the dentist starts to work on their teeth. Many people hate the side effects of anesthesia, like dizziness or nausea, or the feeling that they have a fat lip.

There’s also evidence that suggests some people are genetically predisposed to fear pain and experience dental anxiety. Researchers out of the University of West Virginia indicate you inherit your fear of the dentist from your parents.

Your Dentist Wants your Gums to be Healthy

How to Ease the Fear

If you fear clowns, you avoid the circus. If you don’t like snakes, you don’t go hiking in the Southwest. But what do you do if you fear the dentist? Unfortunately, unlike the circus or a trail in Arizona, you can’t avoid the dental office forever.

Like any fear, there are things you can do to manage it.

  • Discuss any fears you might have – however small they may seem – with your dentist. They may have techniques and strategies to ease your concerns and help you overcome any specific anxieties.
  • Try cognitive-behavioral exercises such as muscle relaxation, intentional breathing and replacing negative thoughts with positive ones[i]
  • Many patients bring distractions to the dental chair with them. Harvard Health readers with dental anxiety recommend bringing funny books or podcasts, music, or audiobooks to keep their minds busy during their cleaning and dental treatment. Some practices provide TVs in the operatory and waiting room that can help distract patients from any anxious feelings they might be having. Some dental practices use aromatherapy to help patients relax.
  • Some patients ask the dentist or the hygienist to explain everything before doing it. By knowing what to expect, they have fewer surprises that can trigger a fearful response. Some dental clinicians will enlist the help of the patient to hand them instruments to make them part of the treatment.

It is important to note that dentophobia might not be something you can manage independently. If these exercises don’t alleviate your anxiety, you might think about seeking professional help from a psychologist or therapist.

Sedation Dentistry

Another option is to request sedation dentistry. Web MD describes sedation dentistry as using medication to help patients with dental fear relax in the treatment chair. There are four levels of sedation dentistry. Minimal sedation has patients awake but relaxed. Moderate, which used to be conscious sedation, means you are awake but won’t remember much of your dental treatment. Deep sedation is close to unconscious but able to be awakened. General anesthesia means unconscious as you would be for surgery. The way the sedation is administered depends on what level of sedation the dentist thinks would be best for your situation.

Best Tips of Staying Cool at the Dentist

Cost of Not Going to the Dentist

It is essential to see your dentist regularly to maintain your oral health. Moreover, research suggests that what is happening in your oral health can affect your overall health and vice versa. We call this the Mouth-Body Connection.®

However, if you do not see your dentist, there is no one examining your teeth, looking at the bone, or monitoring the health of your jaw or the soft tissue in your mouth. No one is screening for oral cancer or checking for signs of other serious systemic conditions. If there is infection or decay, it will persist, which can have multiple serious consequences, including:

  • Bleeding and swollen gums
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold, as well as pain when chewing                       
  • Increased decay requiring more intensive restorative work that is more involved and expensive than simple fillings
  • Loss of gum tissue and bone as the infection continues to develop in the teeth and gums
  • Loss of teeth to decay
  • Missing early signs of oral cancers and other systemic conditions that will only grow more lethal with time

In addition to these health concerns, it can also lead to social and career problems. A smile suffering from decay can prevent moving forward in a relationship or getting jobs. Social isolation and depression can also result from neglecting your teeth, as most people expect a healthy, bright smile.

Speak with a Dentist

Many Smile Generation dental professionals manage patient anxiety and fear in the dental operatory. However, an honest discussion about your concerns can often alleviate some of the feelings that make going to the dentist easier for you.

Teledentistry

You might have heard of teledentistry as an option for your dental care. Teledentistry is a virtual appointment that allows your Smile Generation-trusted dentist to provide care from a distance over the internet. These virtual dental appointments grew in popularity during the COVID-19 Pandemic when in-person care was unavailable. However, it is also excellent for easing patients with dental anxiety into an appointment with their dentist. First, you can talk to the dentist about your concerns in a comfortable place. Then, your dentist can share possible treatment options for you to consider. This initial consultation can help ease some of your fear about seeing the dentist in person. 

Perhaps most importantly, we get that dental fear is a real thing, not just something “in your head.” Moreover, we know that facing dental anxiety is not easy. However, facing your fear of the dentist doesn’t have to be borderline traumatic, either. Your Smile Generation-trusted dentist wants you to have the best possible oral health and overall health, and that includes mental health.  

If you are one of the millions of people with dental anxiety, consider making a virtual or in-person appointment at a Smile Generation-trusted dentist near you today. You’ll find your concerns seriously by a team who welcomes your questions and is committed to helping  you feel comfortable and safe during your dental visit.

Find a Dentist Near You

 

Sources

Cherney K. Fear of the Dentist: How to Cope with Dentophobia. Healthline.com. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/fear-of-dentist. Published 2020. Accessed April 25, 2022.

Fritscher L. Fear of Going to the Dentist aka Dentophobia. Verywellmind.com. https://www.verywellmind.com/dentophobia-fear-of-dentists-2671855. Published 2020. Accessed April 25, 2022.

Beaton L, Freeman R, Humphris G. Why are people afraid of the dentist? Observations and explanations. Med Princ Pract. 2014;23(4):295-301. doi:10.1159/000357223

Frisbee, DMD E. Easing Dental Fear in Adults. Webmd.com. https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/easing-dental-fear-adults. Published 2021. Accessed April 25, 2022.

West Virginia University - Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. (2016, October 13). Dreading your next trip to the dentist?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2022 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161013111707.htm

Clay R. Drilling down on dental fears. https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/03/dental-fears. Published 2016. Accessed April 25, 2022.

MacDonald A. Dental fear? Our readers suggest coping techniques. - Harvard Health. Health.Harvard.edu. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/dental-fear-our-readers-suggest-coping-techniques-20100825327. Published 2010. Accessed April 25, 2022.

Clay R. Drilling down on dental fears. https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/03/dental-fears. Published 2016. Accessed April 25, 2022.

Watson S. What Is Sedation Dentistry?. WebMD.com. https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/sedation-dentistry-can-you-really-relax-in-the-dentists-chair. Published 2020. Accessed April 25, 2022.

Fritscher L. Fear of Going to the Dentist aka Dentophobia. Verywellmind.com. https://www.verywellmind.com/dentophobia-fear-of-dentists-2671855. Published 2020. Accessed April 25, 2022.