Dental Anxiety and Dental Fear: Causes and What you can do

Some, actually quite a few people, get some form of dental anxiety or dental fear when they think of going to the dentist.

Sometimes when I tell people I’m a dentist they’ll either respond with ‘You must be rich’ (which I’m not) or just plain ‘Ugghh, I hate dentists’.

I’ve learnt not to take the latter comment personally. I understand that such a comment usually comes from a bad experience they’ve had.

Regardless, for most people going to the dentist is at the very least a mundane chore that must be done every 6 months. I’ve only met one person who was excited to visit the dentist. A 7-year old girl who had waited 6 months for her next appointment, to show me the drawing she had made of me.

This will be a two-part series and in this article we are dealing with some of the causes of anxiety.


When the anxiety or stress of an upcoming dental visit becomes extreme it can cause avoidance or delay in treatment. This becomes a serious problem.
Odontophobia is defined as:

an ‘overwhelming and irrational fear of dentistry associated with devastating feelings of hypertension, terror, trepidation, and unease’. 

 It has been listed under specific phobias in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-IV. It poses a significant problem for dentists in dealing with these types of patients.

This article is not written for dentists but for you the ‘patient’.  It is important, actually imperative that you remember that dentistry has evolved tremendously throughout the years.

Earlier intervention leads to less costlier and less painful treatments. From the design of dental clinics, to the communication techniques dentists use, dentistry reflects a more holistic approach to patient-centered treatment. Extreme dental fear and anxiety is usually the result of a previous traumatic dental experience.

Reasons people fear going to the dentist include:

Feeling a loss of control or helpless

Loss of control at the dentist’s

You cannot usually see what we’re doing in your mouth. You sit in a reclined position with your mouth wide open, hands to your side and you have little to no control in what we are doing.

I get it!  Actually more people that you would think hate relinquishing control to another person and worse yet a dentist.
I want to reassure you, you have the ability to tell us when to stop, if you are feeling extremely uncomfortable or you are in pain.
We hate patients to be in pain. Trust me! A patient in pain will quickly become highly uncooperative. Which usually means clamping your teeth on our fingers or instruments!   


You may think your situation is tragic and hopeless but there is always a solution. Don’t let any other person but a dentist tell you about the condition of your mouth. Aunt Jean, Cousin Michael and your sweet 83-year old neighbor are not dentists.

Don’t let people psychologically terrorize you with a potential outcome when they don’t have all the facts. We are trained to treat and heal. Dentists have seen it all. We and members of our team are professionals.
We understand that you may have delayed treatment for one reason or another. The point is you came to find a solution to a problem. We are here to help. Please don’t ever feel ashamed and remain in pain, discomfort or unhappy because you’re embarrassed about the condition of your mouth.

Fear of pain

Probably the number one reason why some people avoid going to the dentist’s. Dentistry has advanced greatly even for the dreaded root canals.
From the type of anesthetic used, to how it’s delivered, to the instruments we use. Modern dental procedures are relatively painless thanks to the different types of anesthetic available for the different procedures we do.

Fear of pain
Fear of pain is one cause

Before we deliver anesthetic we will usually tell you which area of the mouth we are going to inject. We will wait for the anesthetic to take effect before we begin. In some cases when we begin, we might go slower than we would like to, in order to see if you are feeling any discomfort.

If during a procedure you feel a level of intolerable discomfort, you can raise your hand (left or right whichever the dentist tells you) and let us know. We will then deliver more anesthetic. Your comfort is our priority. Trust and believe we cannot work on patients who are squirming, wriggling, sliding off the dental chair or holding our hands! In all dental procedures from fillings to implants we can administer more anesthetic if necessary.  Just let us know.

Odontophobia which thankfully does not affect the majority of people can be identified in the following situations:

Total avoidance of the dentist and dental procedures except in extreme pain
Intense physical reactions preceding or during a dental visit such as over sweating,        hyperventilating, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat and nausea

People may feel a spectrum of anxiety or stress which may be carefully managed through proper communication techniques between dentist and patient. You must feel comfortable with your dentist. He or she is a medical professional you will see for the entirety of your natural life.

In the next article we discuss what you can do and what we dentists do to help manage anxious patients.

Do you get nervous going to the dentist? What are the reasons why?

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