Who's Afraid of the dentist?

by mariaparkins

Dental phobia is sometimes ridiculed, but avoiding the dentist can lead to health problems later in life.

Dental phobia is one of the biggest factors that leads to dental problems later in life. Whilst, for some, being afraid of going to the dentist is ridiculous, for others, it is a real and very genuine fear that often leads to long periods between dental visits and the subsequent deterioration of teeth.

Fear of the Dentist is an extremely common phobia

"open wide" - words dental phobics fear
"open wide" - words dental phobics fear

What may come as a surprise, however, is that the largest group which has a fear of going to the dentists is not teenagers and children, but women in their 40s.

A recent survey showed that this group indicated that, in the past, they had suffered significant pain or trauma during a dental procedure and this, subsequently, had deterred them from going, sometimes even causing anxiety and panic attacks.

Whilst many people have mocked this phobia, dentists are now thankfully, taking it very seriously indeed and are taking care at every step along the way to provide a pleasant and relaxing environment for their patients. This can include anything from the décor of the waiting room to the manner of talking to the patient. Even little touches like these can significantly help.

As anyone who dislikes dental visits will know, many waiting rooms are drab and depressing with very little to distract your attention other than out of date magazines or posters with images of teeth with roots hanging from them. A dentist in Cahir, Ireland experimented and removed all of these posters, replacing them with relaxing paintings and posters and found that many patients commented on how much better they felt, and whilst it won’t necessarily make for a pleasant experience, just the fact that someone has shown a little care can indicate to the patient that they will be well looked after.

Even when in pain, dental phobics do all that they can to avoid facing their fear and making an appointment. The survey found that the average time taken by a ‘normal’ patient to make an appointment when they had pain was three days. For dental phobics it was an incredible seventeen days; that is over a fortnight in pain!

It is estimated that around 5% of people suffer from a significant fear of the dentist, a figure that should alert the dental industry and cause it to seek further ways of allaying these fears.

The research also found that there were five specific techniques that people found helpful, to some degree at least, to overcome their fear, albeit, it has to be said, only when there was no other choice. If you are dental phobic, you may find these useful.


  1. Counting or other distraction techniques
  2. Distancing – imaging the pain is not pain but something else entirely
  3. Prayer
  4. Affirmations – i.e. telling yourself that you are better than the pain
  5. Optimism – Accepting it may hurt but it will be over soon and you can relax



How to reduce your fear of dentistry

Updated: 03/26/2012, mariaparkins
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