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Do You Have Dental Fear or Dentist Phobia? You’re Not Alone!

Dental Phobia, Dental Fear, and the Dental DrillDoes the sound of a dental drill make you scared?  Is it hard to get up the courage to go and have dental work completed by your dentist?

If so, you're not alone!  There are many other people who aren't big fans of the dentist.  In fact, the Journal of the American Dental Association has estimated that 30 to 40 million people have dental fear.

How Common Is Dental Fear or Dental Phobia?

Many telephone surveys (like this one) have been conducted asking people about their degree of dental fear.  After looking at several of these, I would say that the overall breakdown of dental fear is the following:

About 20% of people have dental fear.

About 20% of people have a slight amount of dental fear.

About 60% of people don't have any dental fear.

Who Has Dental Phobia or Dental Fear?

A dental unit that specializes in dental fear treatment was used to study 160 adult dental patients.  As I read over the study, I noticed some interesting facts that they found while studying people with dental fear.  They found that:

  • In 85% of the adults, dental fear had started in childhood and was the result of a traumatic dental experience.
  • A majority of those with dental fear were women (From what I've observed so far in my dental career, it seems that the gender of those with dental fear are about 1/3  male and 2/3 female)
  • Although there were more women that had a fear of the dentist, it was the men with dental fear that had worse teeth.
  • The average time that a patient with dental fear had avoided seeing the dentist was 16 years!
  • The most feared events were drilling, getting an anesthetic injection, and getting a tooth extracted.
  • The attributes they looked for in a dentist: Someone who is understanding and tries to avoid inflicting pain.
  • The attributes that they disliked in dentists: Being critical, remote, distant, and having a heavy hand.

Is Dental Fear and Anxiety Decreasing?

In a 2003 review of the studies on dental fear, it was found that studies done over the past 50 years "provide no clear evidence of dental fear either increasing or decreasing. Although several pairwise comparisons between study groups across locations suggest a decrease in dental fear over time, results of comparisons made within the same location are mixed and do not provide enough information to draw definitive conclusions regarding changes in dental fear over time."

One positive point that the study found was that  "while dental fear is not dropping dramatically, it also is not rising as dramatically as is general anxiety in the United States. The fact that dental anxiety is not rising when dentists are treating patients who are increasingly anxious in general is—at least in part—a tribute to advances made in dental technology and patient management skills. In comparison with the rising tide of general anxiety in the United States, this relative reduction in dental anxiety is encouraging. The efforts of the last three decades appear to have had an impact on the problem of dental fear in our society."

Basically, it would seem that dentists seem to be more aware of dental fear and are handling it better, thus holding the prevalence of dental anxiety down, while general anxiety seems to be increasing.

Conclusion - How to Decrease Your Dental Fear

The Internet does have a few sites that are dedicated to helping with dental fear.  One of the largest and best is called Dental Fear Central.  They have a forum there where you can get help from dentists and people who have successfully worked through their fear of the dentist.

Are you afraid of the dentist?  What have you found helpful in dealing with your fear?  I'd love to hear about any tips or hints you have for reducing dental fear in the comments section below.  Also, if you have any suggestions for what dentists can do to reduce your dental fear, I'd love to hear about them so I can better serve my patients who have dental anxiety.

Thanks for reading!


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12 Comments |  Leave A Comment

  1. An easy way for a new dentist to obtain MANY of these previously hurt and consequently now "anxious" of teeth doctor/dentists is to list in their advertising/marketing materials that they will write a prescription for 10MG Diazepam. As a caring "doctor" they can write explaining that 13 hours before and again 1 hour before dental appointment will not only sedate their patient (yet allow them to be able to still drive themself to and from appointment) but it will also allow the local anesthetic (even if they require double the normal amount of shots) to be accepted by their spine-to-brain link to the tooth/gum nerves. I recently experienced a tooth "doctor" who said she'd write me a prescription for diazapam after I had my heart rate and blood pressure checked by a professional and presented their professional proof to her. I paid a lot so I could comply, only to receive a return phone call from her indicating that she had changed her mind. Well, I respected that, yet, by also having to respect myself, I therefore changed to a dentist that thought of himself as enough of a doctor to prescribe the diazapam that I needed. What a waste of time waiting 1.5 months to change dentists in my dental-only HumanaOne C550 HMO so that I could simply get a different dentist. Though I still need 4 shots of local anesthetic with epinephrine, I find that I'm calmer and only feel pain during the last 1.5 minute of dental carries removal drilling. One dental office indicated that they, instead, write prescriptions for Benedryl for their anxious and/or hypersensitive teeth and gum patients.

    It's a shame that I had to spend 30 hours to research 100% pain relief in order to eventually READ about the wonderful sedative, Diazapam, and not find out from my four trusted, though pain allowing and therefore uncaring, dentists during these last 30 years. Why won't dentists take the time to become educators to their patients, instead of often saying after they've placed an expensive high noble gold crown on molar "I don't know, why it still hurts, it was close to the gum and nerve. Hum, I'll write you a referral to a specialist." [No appology offered, as if it is deemed that though there is no infection that a root canal therepy is needed for one or more recently filled or crowned teeth and that therefore the work will have to be destroyed and I'll have to pay to have it fixed and the resulting structure will therefore be weaker/compromised!]. Of course this is I can pay them 3 times more than if my dentist were to perform the same consultation and possibly procedure at the HMO price sheet's listed fee. Oh, the during pain, after pain, and anxiety throughout that they could have saved me from had they valued me as a faithful new or long-time patient and consequently easily written me a prescription for Diazapam! Diazapam certainly isn't habit forming if one strictly uses it to visit their dentist once or twice a week for a couple of months in prep of deep vibrating dental drilling, teeth scaling/planing, gum cutting, root canal therepies procedures, etc.

    • Hi Linda - I am sorry it took you so long to get an oral sedative prescribed so that you could be calm during your dental work. Where I live, there are a lot of ads on the radio talking about "sleep dentistry." I have some anxious patients and I am going to talk about these drugs (collectively known as benzodiazepines) with them. We learn a lot about how to manage anxious patients in dental school so I usually try to help my patients get through their dental work without drugs, although I did use "laughing gas" on a patient this morning and that went well. I think that maybe certain dentists think that the drugs are just an easy way out or they are unfamiliar with them and don't want to prescribe them.

      In general I think that many dental offices don't take the time to communicate the risks vs. benefits of each procedure that we do. For example, if you dentist had said, "Your cavities are deep. We can do the fillings, but there is a chance that you will need a root canal on this tooth." Then, you would have been able to make an informed decision about your dental treatment.

      Reading your comment has encouraged me to talk to my anxious patients about the different sedatives that we can prescribe to help alleviate their anxiety. Sometimes we get so busy thinking about how to perform our next procedure that we forget about the patient. I'm glad everything ended up working out for your, Linda! Good luck with your current dentist. Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Correction, please, I meant "though there is NO infection." Update by Tom on 4/21/2011: I changed it in your comment below.

    Further, why would VERY EXPENSIVE and ROOT WEAKENING root canals therapy be falsely prescribed so frequently by so many dentists? Are these unethical dentists so desperate to receive the referral fee from a specialist PLUS the later opportunity to charge a second time to fix and/or replace the new hardware that they recently, previously applied to their client patient's mouth?

    • Hi Linda - In the United States, I am pretty sure that it is illegal to have a general dentist collect a referral fee from a specialist. It is considered unethical to accept gifts from a specialist to which you refer patients.

      I am sorry if you have had dentists tell you that you need a root canal when you really didn't. Unfortunately, there are unethical people in every profession. When you have doubts about a certain treatment, it's always wise to get a second opinion. I hope that clears things up a little. Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks for your comment, Linda!

  3. Hi Tom - Yes, I had heard the ads for "sleep dentistry." Yet, I knew that most dental office owners don't offer it because their patients aren't willing to pay $80 per visit (I wouldn't be willing to pay that!). Also, most of the dental office owners didn't want to pay the extra cost to their insurance carrier in order to provide "sleep" sedatives.

    Consequently, once you're a dentist, staying away from "sleep therapy" will probably be the best and cheapest choice for you and your patients. Again, why not instead write your "anxious" or "hypersensative teeth and/or gum" patients the prescription for Diazapam. That way they the now more confident in you and comfortable patient will always be awake and alert to your instructions AND able to drive themself to and from your appointment at ease.

    I am reading several of your articles and am grateful that you both give and receive good knowledge joyfully.

    • Hi Linda - I have heard that malpractice insurance premiums go up when you provide "sleep dentistry."

      Diazepam is one of the many drugs that are known as benzodiazepines. From what we've learned so far, it can impair thinking and we should only give it to patients if they have someone who can drive them to and from their appointments.

      Large doses of benzodiazepines produce "sleep dentistry" while smile doses simply act to reduce anxiety. There is a pretty big spectrum over which they act. Thanks for your kind words and your comment, Linda!

  4. i'm a bit worried about going to the dentist because the navocain shots don't work on me as easily as they do on other people.

  5. Does the dentist still give you novocaine if you are on diazepam? I will be having three crowns and one small cavity filled at the same appointment.

  6. Thank you for the quick response. This website is great!

  7. Hi i'm about to go get a filling done but i am afraid of the pain when getting the local anaestic (i only just had one last week) i had a temporary filling and he clean the tooth will i need another injection to get the proper filling?

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About Me

Tom, Creator of Oral AnswersHi, I'm Tom. I recently graduated from dental school and am now a dentist in Bridgewater, Virginia. I started this blog to help people take better care of their teeth. You can learn more about me or ask me a question.

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