Do you have a fear of the dentist? If so, you’re not unusual. If you suffer with dental phobia, you may avoid dentists altogether. Many people who join our forum haven’t seen a dentist in many decades.
Whether your fear is extreme and you suffer from actual dentophobia, or you have specific dental fears or a feeling of anxiety that makes dental visits difficult or impossible, help is at hand!
If you already have a dentist you’re happy with, you can jump straight to our tips for coping with dental treatment!
Understanding your fears
1. Know that fear of the dentist is normal
Our mouth is one of the most intimate and sensitive parts of the body. A visit to the dentist can make us feel very vulnerable. It may feel as if the dentist has all the knowledge, we can’t really move or speak, and we lose control over what is happening to us.
It may feel as if, like a judge, the dentist has all the control. And this is just for the average person.
Anxiety and avoidance are natural, rational and purposeful reactions. The purpose of anxiety is to prevent us from doing things that may harm us (or have harmed us in the past). So right now your anxiety is doing exactly that – keeping you safe and out of harm’s way.
Unfortunately, for the vast majority of people, it’s very hard to get by without any professional dental care – which may be why you have arrived here in the first place.
2. What caused your fear of the dentist?
There are many things that can cause people to develop an extreme fear of the dentist, for example:
Bad experiences at the dentist, especially if the dentist was acting in an uncaring and cold manner. Common examples include pain during treatment, painful injections, complications from a procedure, unnecessary treatment, and things being done to you without your consent. Or a dentist may have made a hurtful remark about your teeth or oral hygiene.
Being scared of the dentist really is no different from being scared of a shark-infested sea if you’ve had bad experiences with dentists in the past.
If you were standing on Bondi Beach and you see a dark shape moving around in the water, do you have a shark phobia if you never want to go into the water? No. If you’re at your local swimming pool and you see a dark shape in the water and you decide not to get in, that’s a phobia. But for somebody who has had difficult and bad experiences at the dentist, their reality has been on Bondi Beach. Wanting to stay away from that situation is entirely rational.
Now the difference, and the crucial part, is making sure that when you do go to a dentist, you see a dentist who is as safe as the swimming pool. The phobia has protected you from all dentists when actually it’s just the dentists that are not nice to you that you need to avoid. – dentist Mike Gow (in an interview with Dental Fear Central)
Embarrassment is also extremely common. Especially if dental phobia has caused you to avoid dentists for a very long time, you may feel that the state of your teeth or mouth is so horrific that showing the damage to a dentist is out of the question. Or you may feel embarrassed about crying, panicking, or making a fool of yourself in front of the dentist or their assistant.
Other traumatic experiences
You may have a history of sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Or perhaps you have a fear of medical settings and doctors more generally. Such fears are often triggered by bad (first or secondhand) experiences with doctors or hospitals. The dental environment has many parallels with these situations and can act as a trigger for memories to flood back.
Fear of medical settings such as this hospital can spill over into the dental realm
Or else you, or someone close to you, may have had a bad reaction to a medication. And as a result, you may be worried about something bad happening to you. Sometimes, just reading about this possibility on the internet can trigger intense anxiety.
Not surprisingly, past experiences of painful injections (dental or otherwise) can make people fearful of needles. Others develop a needle phobia after they were held down against their will by doctors or nurses. Some have even reported being threatened with needles by parents or caregivers. Or perhaps it’s more just the thought of needles and being pricked that terrifies you. Some people tend to faint when they see a needle.
People may pick up on parents’ fears about going to the dentist, or hear about someone else’s bad experience. Also, the negative portrayal of dentists in the media or in movies can cause dental anxiety.
While it can sometimes be helpful to know the reasons for your fear, don’t worry if you can’t pinpoint them. Perhaps you’ve always been nervous at the dentist but you don’t know why? If so, our Dental Anxiety – Unspecified page has some useful tips!
Many people find it really helpful to find out how others tackled their fear of the dentist, and what happened when they finally managed to visit a dentist: Personal Stories of Overcoming Dental Phobia
3. Make a list of what scares you about the dentist
You may have very specific dental fears such as a fear of injections, the sound of the drill, having a panic attack while in the chair and so on. Or maybe it’s not so many dental procedures that scare you, but the dentist and their behaviour.
4. Think about what might help you
This step is not essential – a dentist with a special interest in helping anxious patients will be able to guide you through this process. But you may like to think about your likes and dislikes in advance:
5. You’re in control!
It can sometimes feel as if the dentist is an authority figure who wields all the power. Nothing could be further from the truth. You’re paying for a service, and you’re employing them to be your dentist! They would be out of business if it wasn’t for their customers. As with any business, you are free to take your custom elsewhere if you’re not happy with the service you receive.
While not all dentists enjoy helping nervous patients, those who do view it as a privilege when someone who has a huge fear of dentists puts their trust in them. And many dentists feel that helping people overcome their fears makes their job worthwhile and satisfying.
So much of it is about having the right dentist, one who will stop when you tell them to stop and who you trust 100%.
Also, read / 10 Things Dentists Do at Routine Dental Checkups.