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Medically reviewed by Dr Jerry Jesin — By Andrea Galick

Reasons of Dental Phobia

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7 months ago

For many people, nothing seems worse than a trip to the dentist’s office. Even those who normally handle doctor appointments well get nervous when it comes to getting their teeth cleaned. But why are people scared of the dentist? After all, a dentist or hygienist is only there to make sure that your teeth stay healthy and that your smile remains bright. This article explores the dental phobia that thousands of people face every day and details some coping methods that can help you figure out how to deal with dental anxiety.

Common Reasons for Dental Anxiety

To start with, let’s review some common reasons why people suffer from dental fear. These reasons often overlap with problems that cause people to fear other medical appointments, but some are unique to the dental profession. As a quick overview, the most common reasons why people fear going to the dentist include the following:

  • Fear of pain: People associate dental visits with picks, needles, and even drills. Not all of these images are accurate, but they are pervasive enough in society that they linger in people’s thoughts.
  • Fear of injections: Dental anesthesia often requires the use of needles. People who have trouble with shots might also have trouble with dental procedures.
  • Feelings of helplessness: While a doctor’s office usually offers the chance to make small talk to take a patient’s mind off a procedure, a dental checkup involves lying back in a chair and being unable to do much at all.
  • Feelings of embarrassment: Many patients don’t brush or floss as often as they need to and feel embarrassed about it. Others believe that an in-depth dental procedure represents a failing on their part that they should have avoided.

There are ways to deal with each of these reasons behind dental nervousness. The sections below provide an in-depth look at these problems and suggestions that you can use when overcoming dentophobia.

Fear of Pain

The fear of pain from dental procedures comes largely from a combination of outdated concepts, media hysteria, and extrapolated worries. The image of a sadistic dentist has burrowed its way into modern culture so deeply that many people ignore the fact that the profession is largely friendly and helpful to all patients. Furthermore, even modern depictions of dental work often use outdated tools and procedures, such as old-fashioned drills and a complete lack of pain management. While some dental procedures do come with a degree of pain, dentists have largely moved toward more comfortable procedures with tools that minimize any level of discomfort.

In order to get rid of dental fears involving pain, you should take the time to voice your concerns to your dentist or hygienist. In many cases, the professional working with you will discuss the upcoming procedure and the tools used. This gives you a chance to see how little pain will actually be involved in the dental visit. If you still have concerns about pain, discuss alternatives with your dentist. The professional might decide to use different tools that cause less discomfort. If that isn’t possible, you and your dentist can discuss the possibility of using sedation to help ease the pain. By being open and honest about your dental anxiety, you can make communication your best tool in overcoming dentophobia.

Fear of Injections

Complicating the possibility of pain relief during dentistry is the fact that many sedation procedures involve a needle injection. In many cases, this means an injection in the jaw or gumline to numb the area. For stronger sedation, a patient might receive an IV and a needle injection in the arm. If the patient has a fear of needles or injections, both of these situations can be extremely problematic. Many times, a patient who is going through a lot of dental pain might psychologically make an injection out to be even worse. The more a person thinks about the potential pain, the more anxious they get and the more likely they are to panic when they feel the injection.

To get rid of dental fears involving injections, communication with your dentist and anesthetic team is important. If you detail your fear of needles up front, your dentist might be able to suggest other pain relief solutions. For example, topical anesthetic can be applied to your gums to render them insensitive to pain. The anesthetic needs to be reapplied during long procedures, but you can tell a dentist during the procedure if you start to feel pain. In cases where you need to be rendered unconscious by anesthetic, a dental team that knows you have a fear of needles might provide you with a distraction to keep your mind off the injection as it occurs. Just remember that your dental team can only help you if you alert them to the problem.

Feelings of Helplessness

Lying in a dental chair, for either a checkup or a complex procedure, can feel daunting for somebody who is used to being in control. The position is a passive one, and the nature of dentistry limits both your eyesight (from the bright lights needed for the dentist to see into your mouth) and your ability to speak (due to the fact that the dentist needs access to your mouth). People who are already feel nervous about the upcoming cleaning or procedure often have those feelings exacerbated by the overall passive nature of sitting in the dentist’s chair. Furthermore, anybody who has a desire to remain in control most of the time likely finds the position to be off-putting, especially combined with the fact that their level of dental expertise almost certainly pales before a professional in the matter.

If a feeling of helplessness causes you to become anxious about your dental appointment, you can overcome this problem by communicating with offices in your area and finding a dentist or hygienist with whom you can develop a good personal rapport. The more you trust your dentist, the less helpless you will feel when it comes time for a procedure. Taking some extra time before you get into the chair to talk with the professional and get to know them can help. You can also alert the individuals working with you about specific concerns you have, which provides you with some level of control. If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t seem to develop a rapport with your dentist, consider asking for a referral to another office. Most professionals won’t take it personally, as guaranteeing oral health is every good dentist’s top priority.

Feelings of Embarrassment

A huge number of people don’t keep up on their dental hygiene as they should. This could include not brushing regularly, not flossing properly, overindulging on sweets, or any other behavior that leaves larger than normal amounts of plaque on your teeth. Even those who know proper dental hygiene don’t always follow the guidelines, often due to the hectic schedule that work, children, and assorted other activities create. Knowing that your teeth aren’t as clean as they should be can be a stumbling block when going in to see a dentist who expects you to try to take care of yourself. In extreme cases, the sheer embarrassment from this perceived failing can keep people from going to see their dentist.

The best way to get rid of dental fears related to embarrassment is to be open and honest about those problems. Dentists don’t ask you whether you brush regularly as some sort of trap or shaming technique. Rather, they are honestly concerned about your oral health. Remember that dentists and hygienists see hundreds of people in a given month, many of whom neglect their teeth. No matter how little you brush, your mouth is likely in better shape than somebody else they saw recently. Moreover, by admitting any sort of lapse in dental maintenance, you can open a discussion with a dental professional about how you can improve in the future. If you have several areas where your cleaning is deficient, your dentist might give you a single area to focus on, such as flossing properly. As the discussion goes on, your feelings of embarrassment and thus your anxiety will likely disappear.

Sedation for Dentophobia

Some people who can’t get over their fear of the dentist seek out sedation options to help them calm down. This can work in some situations, especially if the pain and discomfort caused by your anxiety would make a procedure more difficult for the professional. If you want to consider sedation for your dental phobia, you should make sure to check with your insurance holder first. Not all dental plans cover sedation if it is not deemed medically necessary. If your plan doesn’t cover sedation when you think you need it, your dental office might be able to communicate with the holder to emphasize the necessity of anesthesia.

Fear of the dentist should never keep you from getting the oral care you need. By identifying your fears and following the tips above, you can make sure that your next trip to the dentist in North York is as anxiety-free as possible.

Andrea Galick

Andrea Galick is an accomplished Dental Hygienist (RDH) with a passion for helping patients achieve optimal oral health. Andrea has built a reputation as a caring and skilled practitioner who puts her patients at ease and provides individualized care that meets their unique needs.


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