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3 Surprising Facts about Dental Phobia
Jan 12, 2022

girl who is nervous Dental Care Center

Fear. Heebie-jeebies. Anxiety. People often talk about dental phobia — whether it’s a small discomfort or full-on sweating as you drive to the dentist office.

Dental phobia is real and should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, some people are so nervous that they skip going to the dentist at all. Later, they arrive with severe dental problems, which may require multiple visits to correct.

The Washington Post reported in 2015, “Roughly five to 10 percent of the population suffers from dental phobia, but as many as 40 to 75 percent of people experience fear and anxiety related to dentistry that contributes to postponing and canceling appointments, or avoiding the dentist altogether, according to extensive research on the subject.”

If you feel anxious about trips to the dentist, here are some surprising things about dental phobia.

  • The phobia may be linked to embarrassment. A study from the National Institutes of Health found that those with dental phobia often also experienced embarrassment. These feelings are not just “I don’t want to sit there with my mouth open,” but a much deeper emotion. Sometimes this is rooted in history or experiences in a dental office or life, but in other cases, it generates from fear of pain, the fear of getting trapped, or the feeling of having your personal space invaded.  
  • The clinical name is odontophobia. A true diagnosed phobia “is persistent, unrealistic, and intense fear of a specific stimulus, leading to complete avoidance of the perceived danger.” (NIH)
  • People with dental phobia are more likely to have tooth decay. This fact is probably less surprising. After all, those with dental phobia may not see a dentist for many years. But a study released in 2017 confirmed this assumption. But the study also pointed out that those with poor oral health are often less likely to smile and may suffer from lower self-esteem because of their tooth problems.

Treating Dental Phobia and Anxiety

Whether someone’s emotions are a low-level anxiety or a full phobia, there are treatments to help get through a dental visit — and not all of those rely on drugs.

The American Psychological Association reported a success story with one woman who hadn’t seen a dentist in 15 years. During her first two visits, she couldn’t sit in the dentist’s chair. But after developing coping strategies and gradually desensitizing her to the items in the office, she is now able to sit through a cleaning every six months. Some her coping techniques are deep breathing, listening to music, and raising her hand when she needs the dentist or hygienist to give her a break.

While sedation dentistry is also an option, those who choose that route often still feel their anxiety about the dentist; they rely on the drugs to “get through it.” Those who find ways to cope often move past their fears.

“Several studies in Sweden, which opened one of the first dental clinics using psychologists, showed that anxious dental patients who participated in therapy were much more likely to continue dental treatment than those who underwent general anesthesia for procedures,” the Post reported.

Whatever your level of anxiety, we aim to make you feel comfortable so you can maintain a healthy smile. Talk to us about your concerns before your next appointment, and we’ll be happy to work with you for a more comfortable visit.