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Dental Fears


It’s no secret that people are afraid of dentists. Ironically, it’s also the dentists who have a hard time dealing with their patient’s fear of them. Dentists and their patients are in a similar boat when it comes to dental fear. In fact, dentists have one of the highest rates of suicide for a profession, mainly due to depression stemming from patient’s disliking or having fear for them. Even an episode of the TV show Seinfeld was dedicated to the belief that dentists are suicidal because of dental fears.

So what makes people so fearful? It’s hard to say for each individual, but one thing is for sure: No one is born with a fear of dentists, it’s a learned emotion.

How We Learn to be Fearful of the Dentist

Fear of the dentist is a learned emotion. We are not born with knowledge of a dentist’s profession, we learn about it- mainly at a young age when we learn about how dentists keep our teeth healthy, clean and functional. Age is a major factor in fear, as we develop fears at a very early age and continue to grow that fear as we age. As we grow older we hear of other’s talk about their experiences and personal fears, anxieties and phobias of the dentist, dentist office, dental utensils, etc. are developed. Children are extremely impressionable and believe almost everything that is told to them. This makes it’s easy for them to willingly ‘dislike’ the dentist, even if they haven’t had their own experiences yet.

A child’s first trip to the dentist, if not positively influenced, can be a frightening experience. Children need to be reinforced to believe that the dentist can be a fun place that keeps their teeth healthy.

Dental fears and anxiety is the number one reason why people do not visit the dentist on a regular basis. You may have control over a child’s visits to the dentist, however once they grow older chances are they will not continue to see the dentist twice a year once they become adults.

Here’s a quick list of places we learn to fear the dentist:

  • At the dentist office
  • In the car on the way to the dentist office
  • In our homes
  • TV shows and movies
  • School
  • Work

What is Dental Fear?

Dental fear is a real thing. It’s also a known thing, whereas dental anxiety for example, is considered the fear of the unknown upcoming events. It’s something that everybody in the world has in common, including the dental professionals. Dentists think of dental fear as a big monster that they must overcome with each time they see a patient. The patient doesn’t have to be a new one for the fear to be real and present.

For example, patients who have had a root canal before know what to expect, from the pain to the procedure itself. So the next time they have to receive a particular restorative procedure, the fear is resurfaced. Fear turns into avoidance, which turns into pain and poor health. Ultimately, dental fear can become a factor to the cost of dental care for an individual.

Signs of Dental Fear

Here are a few questions that may or may not suggest you have a fear of the dentist:

  • Do you make your own appointments?
  • Do you see the dentist regularly?
  • Do you express your fears to other people, even when you do not have an upcoming appointment?
  • Do you feel (body tenses up, you cringe) other’s pain when they describe their experiences?
  • Are you able to discuss your fear of the dentist with others?

Dental Fear Treatment

Dentists and psychologists have been working together for a long period of time now trying to figure out a solution to help people control their dental fears. Dental equipment and technology has significantly improved over recent years. For example, people can elect to have their teeth cleaned by a laser in less than 10 minutes instead of sitting in the dentists chair facing the scraper and other elements to getting your teeth cleaned. Other steps dentists have taken to reduce fear in their patients include:

  • Upgraded equipment such as comfortable dental chairs and TV’s in the rooms
  • Relaxation techniques such as yoga
  • Medication that helps dentists may prescribe to relax a patient before an appointment
  • Communication between dentists and patients to gain trust
  • All of these tools have been used in dentist’s offices worldwide to help their patients overcome fears they may have. The goal of the dentist is to gain your trust through educating, communicating, and caring for you before, during and after your dental treatments.

Lear More About Dental Fears:

Dental Anxiety

Dental anxieties are extremely common, as they involve fearing the unknown. There are many different causes and treatments for those suffering from dental anxiety.

Dental Phobia

Dental phobias are much different than anxieties or fears. In fact, they are very similar to dental fear, only at a much higher mental level. Learn about dental phobias and how they can control your life.

Sedation Dentistry

Sedation dentistry has come along way in recent times. There are numerous ways to help patients cope with their fears and phobias of dentistry. Learn more about it here.

Page updated September 2012



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