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My Dental Fear: Am I Phobic?

Many people have a high level of anxiety and avoid visiting the dentist. Postponing dental visits out of fear can result in more complex dental problems.

Fortunately, modern dentistry has many innovative products and procedures to make your dental visit a pleasant, painless, fear-free experience. A qualified, compassionate dentist who stays up-to-date with new dental developments can help you successfully overcome your fears, gain a beautiful new smile, and restore your dental health.

You can assess your level of dental fear by taking tests like the one below. You will find links to two other helpful tests on this page: Corah's Dental Anxiety Scale and the Mount Sinai Dental Fear Inventory.

Provide your dentist with your results from these tests so he or she can better understand your concerns and treat you accordingly.

Why Do I Fear the Dentist?

Dental phobias and anxiety can stem from various sources and lead to a strongly conditioned fear response. The following are the most common reasons for dental fear:

  • Painful or negative experiences during previous visits to a dentist's office — including careless comments from a dentist or hygienist during a past examination
  • Feeling helpless and/or not in control during a dental appointment
  • Embarrassment about dental neglect and fear of criticism and/or belittlement when you go to a dental office
  • Hearing scary anecdotes about negative dental experiences from family and friends
  • Negative, menacing portrayals of dentists in movies, on TV and in newspapers and magazines
  • A sense of depersonalization in the dental process, intensified by the need for precautions such as masks, latex gloves and shields.
  • A general fear of the unknown
  • A higher than average fear of discomfort or pain
  • A fear of gagging or choking
  • A strong aversion to having people and objects come near your head, particularly objects that are hard or seem even remotely dangerous

What Can I Do About My Dental Fear?

The first thing you can do is realize that your dental fear can be overcome. Fear is a learned behavior and can be unlearned. Behavior modification techniques that focus on treating you as a whole person, not merely someone requiring dental work, can help you overcome your fears. This obviously takes a team approach involving you, your dentist and his or her staff.

Communication is the key. You must feel comfortable expressing your fears and concerns and believe that you are being listened to. If you feel that the dentist and staff are not genuinely concerned and listening, get referrals to other offices. You should never compromise the level of communication that you feel is necessary to give you a sense of control over your experience in a dental office.

Modern dentistry with a compassionate dental team can be truly painless. You can desensitize yourself to your fears if you take the first step and allow the right team to help you overcome your fears.

A Sense of Control

Empower yourself with the knowledge to alleviate fear of the unknown. As a patient you have the right to a clear explanation of any procedures your dentist proposes. If you have a question about a particular procedure, don't hesitate to ask it.

You should also have input into treatment decisions and choices. You should be honest with your dentist regarding how much treatment you think you can tolerate at first. As you build confidence in yourself and trust in the team that is caring for you, the length of your appointment and the amount of work accomplished can increase.

A signaling system should be established between you and the dental team, allowing you to stop work for any reason — whether it be because you need more anesthetic, want to rinse out or simply need a two-second break. The most common signal is raising your hand.

Never be Embarrassed

If you have been criticized in the past for your behavior or if you are embarrassed by the dental condition your neglect has caused, express yourself honestly and give your present dentist a chance to understand your concerns and show you that he or she cares.

You will be amazed at the wealth of treatment options available. With modern dentistry, it's never too late to create a new smile!