Dental Phobia

Dental phobia, or dentophobia, is an intense fear of going to the dentist. This can cause patients to avoid dental care and let their dental health decline, which can lead to more severe oral health issues.


There are many ways to overcome your dental anxiety, including finding a dentist with whom you feel comfortable and practicing relaxation techniques. Medications may also be helpful for some people.

Fear of Pain

Fear of pain is a common reason why people avoid dental treatment. Although this is a natural reaction, it can lead to more serious health problems in the long run. Dental phobia can also be treated with medication, including sedation, which is used to relax patients during treatment.

A common cause of dental anxiety is a negative traumatic experience in the past. This could include having a painful procedure done without your consent as a child or experiencing a bad dental visit as an adult. Some studies have found that the sensitivity to pain is directly related to the level of dental anxiety a person feels.

Other causes of dental anxiety may include having a family history of anxiety disorders or a genetic predisposition towards developing one. Similarly, some people may have more anxiety if they know someone who has a phobia or anxiety disorder.

Research has shown that both dental fear and the sensitivity to pain are highly heritable, with heritability being higher in women than men. Using twin data, Ray et al. [38] showed that heritability for dental fear and sensitivity to pain were comparable, which is in line with existing research. Moreover, the authors demonstrated that both heritability measures were significantly correlated with adolescent dental anxiety. This further supports the hypothesis that adolescent dental anxiety and heritability for dental fear are closely related.

Fear of Invasion

Like the fear of clowns or snakes, some people have a genuine phobia that causes them to avoid visiting the dentist. Fortunately, most of these people have a mild or moderate anxiety level and can be managed through self-help techniques like deep breathing exercises or muscle relaxation. However, some people have a full-blown phobia that requires professional help from a therapist or psychologist.

Dental phobia, also known as dentophobia, is more intense than general anxiety and involves an extreme fear of going to the dentist. In addition to fear of pain, a person with a true dental phobia might have specific fears about the smells and sounds of the office, needles, choking/gagging or invasion of personal space. People with a dental phobia might also have anxiety about their own appearance and might worry about crooked teeth, bad breath or other oral issues that could be visible to the hygienist or dentist.

Research has shown that a person’s anxiety about going to the dentist is influenced by various factors including family history and vicarious learning. For example, a person may develop dental anxiety through witnessing their parents experience anxiety in connection with dental treatment or through hearing stories from others about traumatic experiences at the dentist. One study found that 56% of participants who reported child onset dental anxiety had a parent or sibling who also suffered from anxiety in this context.

Fear of the Dentist’s Tools

Dentists use a variety of tools to perform procedures, including metal files and drills. These instruments can be frightening to patients with dental phobia. The fear of tools can be even more intense when a patient knows they will need to have their mouths opened for treatment. This is especially true when the dentist needs to work on a very sensitive area of the mouth. The pain associated with this can add to the overall anxiety of the procedure.

People with dentophobia often find themselves in a vicious cycle where they avoid going to the dentist, their teeth deteriorate and they then need more complex and expensive treatments. A dentist can help to break this cycle by implementing a range of strategies that will reduce the fear. These might include breathing techniques, relaxation and meditation and medication. A dentist might also offer sedation, which can be in the form of laughing gas, pills or IV sedation.

It is important to recognise that dental anxiety and phobias are real problems. It is also important to realise that these fears can be overcome with the right support. While every dentist will have a story of a patient who failed to go to the dentist because of their fears, they will also have many stories of patients who overcame their fear and were treated successfully.

Fear of Failure

A fear of failure to achieve good oral health can have severe consequences. Patients with dental phobia often avoid necessary treatment, leading to tooth decay and gum disease. They also are at risk of losing teeth, which can lead to a loss of self-esteem and difficulty finding employment or relationships.

In one study, it was found that children with a mother or father who suffered from dental anxiety were twice as likely to suffer from the same fear themselves. This suggests that vicarious learning can be a major cause of dental phobia.

For those who are less severely afraid, a simple discussion with their dentist can be all it takes to ease their anxieties. Many dentists are experienced in treating dental anxiety and may offer a number of techniques to make the patient feel comfortable. These include relaxation exercises, distraction strategies and sedation dentistry.

For those with the most severe forms of dental phobia, psycho-therapeutic or pharmacological interventions may be needed. The latter includes a range of medications that help to reduce anxiety and induce sleepiness. These can be in the form of pills or liquids. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a powerful tool that can be used to change both negative thoughts and behaviors. It can be used to manage dental anxiety and phobia as well as other forms of phobia and anxiety.