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Dental Fear You Are Not Alone

Does 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?

Dental Phobia, Dental Fear, and the Dental DrillIf 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!