Overcoming Fear of the Dentist: Causes and Treatments

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Are experiencing fear or anxiety when you think about scheduling a dental appointment? The good news is, you are definitely not alone. Close to 60% of the total human population is experiencing dental anxiety (anxiety about visiting the dentist), and around 5-10% are suffering from severe dental phobia. 

Dental phobia is a more severe, serious condition than dental anxiety. People suffering from dental phobia can be extremely terrified and panic-stricken when making a visit to the dentist. The worse thing is, they might understand that this fear is irrational, and they do understand the benefits of going to the dentist, but can’t do anything about it.

Here, we will learn more about dental anxiety and dental phobia, and what we can do about them.

Symptoms of Dental Anxiety and Dental Phobia

Dental anxiety and dental phobia generally produce similar signs and symptoms. The main difference between the two lies in the intensity of the symptoms. 

With that being said, here are the common signs of anxiety/fear of the dentist: 

  • Excessive sweating when thinking about visiting the dentist (and when actually visiting the dentist)
  • Nervousness/anxiety, that will escalate the closer the patient is to the dental exam, usually peaking in the dental office waiting room
  • Faster heart rate (tachycardia) or palpitations
  • Low blood pressure, can possibly cause fainting
  • Trouble sleeping due to the thoughts about the dental exam, especially the night before the exam
  • Visible physical distress from crying, feeling physically ill, signs of panic, etc. 
  • The difficulty of breathing, often occurring when an object is placed in your mouth during the treatment.
  • Signs of withdrawal, for example, using humor and even aggression to mask fear or panic

Causes of Fear of the Dentist

However, actual trauma isn’t the only reason for dental phobia and anxiety, and here are some of the other common reasons: 

There can be many potential reasons causing dental phobia and anxiety, 


  • Nervous about pain. A very common, if not the most common reason to avoid visiting the dentist. The fear usually stems from past traumatic experiences when visiting the dentist. For instance, when a person experiences complications or overly painful dental procedures during their childhood, the trauma can still affect them even into adulthood. Also, horror stories about dental visits told by others might also cause this. The field of dentistry understood this concern and is continuously improving procedures and treatments to be less painful and even painless. 
  • Feeling of loss of control. Sitting on the dentist’s chair with your mouth wide open can cause people to feel helpless, which can be very fearsome for some people.
  • Afraid of injections. Another common phobia, many people fear needles and penetrations, even more so when the injection is inserted into their gums and mouth tissue. Also, people might fear that the anesthesia doesn’t work properly to eliminate pain before the procedure is implemented.
  • Afraid of side effects. People might fear the potential side effects of the procedure (swollen cheek, fat lip, numbness, etc.), painful recovery period, or potential side effects of the anesthesia (dizziness, nausea, etc.). 
  • Embarrassment. Many people are self-conscious about the appearance of their teeth, bad breath, and other potentially embarrassing things related to oral health. Also, some other people might feel uncomfortable due to the obstruction of personal space by the dentist. 
  • Financial fear. Dental procedures and treatments can be (very) expensive and not all of them are covered by your insurance. Fear about cost is actually a very common type of dental anxiety. 


Treatment of Dental Anxiety

There are several ways to treat dental anxiety and dental phobia, ranging from behavioral strategies do medications. If necessary, the dentist might work together with a psychologist to help patients with ways to manage fear and anxiety, such as:


  • Strategy to manage the fear of pain: the best way to manage pain is to communicate it with your dentist. They can then plan ahead on what kind of anesthesia to administer during the procedure, and communicate it with you. For example, if you are afraid of injections, alternatives like laughing gas (nitrous oxide) can help you relax first before the dentist can administer an anesthetic injection. Plan the procedure together with your dentist so you can be as comfortable as possible.
  • Past trauma with the dentist: as mentioned above, a bad experience with the dentist is one of the most common causes of dental phobia. It doesn’t always have to be experiences related to pain or discomfort, but there can also be cases where the bill is too expensive, bad hygiene practice in the dentist’s office, and so on. The best way to manage this trauma is to communicate your past experience with the dentist’s office before you book an appointment, so the dental staff can understand your concern and plan suitable accommodation.
  • Fear about lack of control: Let the dental staff/assistant know at the beginning of the appointment about your discomfort. You can, for example, make an agreement with the dentist about a hand sign you can use to take a break (it can be as simple as raising your hand).
  • Embarrassment. Nothing much you can do about this, but remember, the dentist, especially experienced one, is a professional and it’s highly likely they’ve seen someone in worse condition than yours. A
  • Cost Anxiety. Yes, as established, dental treatments can be (extremely) expensive, and financial constraints are one of the most common causes of dental phobia, especially when your insurance doesn’t cover it.  The best way to tackle this type of anxiety is to figure out your financing options. Nowadays, most dental offices will provide a variety of options regarding finances. Also, check your local area for cheaper alternatives (i.e. free clinics).


End Words

Communication is the key to coping with your dental phobia or anxiety. Discuss your concerns and fears with the dentist, and work together to find the best possible ways to allow comfortable dental treatment. Choose a dentist that is actually concerned about your fear, and can take your anxiety seriously. 

Here at Skymark Smile Centre, we have a team of professional dentists that are experienced in treating patients with dental anxiety and phobia. We take your fears seriously, and we can’t wait to become your partner in overcoming your anxiety and achieve better oral hygiene and health.

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