Why Do People Fear the Dentist?

Last Updated: 04/05/2017

Cerezen Team

Why Do People Fear the Dentist?
5 (100%) 3 votes

Nobody looks forward to going to the dentist but most of us are able to grin and bear it. However, for those with dental phobia, the very thought of a dental appointment is terrifying.

A phobia is an extreme or irrational fear, and people with dental phobia will avoid the dentist at all costs. They’ll put off routine check-ups for years, preferring to live with the pain of gum disease or the discomfort of a broken tooth.

Causes of Dental Phobia

People develop dental phobias for a number of reasons, the more common ones being:

  1. Negative Past Experiences 

    People’s fear of the dentist can stem from prior experience. It’s similar to having a bad experience anywhere, whether at a restaurant that served you up a dose of food poisoning or just a hair stylist who gave you a dud haircut. In such situations, you’re not inclined to go rushing back for more. 

    Anyone who has previously suffered pain or discomfort during a dental procedure is likely to be anxious when future appointments come around.

Woman in Fear of Dentist

  1. Loss of Control 

    People fear the dentist because they have no control over the situation they find themselves in. They’re required to sit still and yield control to the dentist.

  2. Fear of the Unknown

    “I fear the dentist and I’m one of them!” says Jeffrey Ingber, Clinical Professor at University of Pennsylvania. “Why? Because you never know what’s around the corner until you get there.” 

    There’s nothing like a trip to the dentist to activate this fear of the unknown. A dental patient simply doesn’t know what’s about to happen next. They don’t know if they will hear the dreaded words ‘root canal’, or if they’ll feel every jolt of the drill despite a massive injection of anaesthetic. Lying back in the dental chair, they can’t see what the dentist is doing and so can’t predict what’s going to hurt. 

  1. Embarrassment 

    Few of us enjoy having someone poking around our mouth. We may feel self-conscious about the state of our teeth or the smell of garlic on our breath. Dental treatments require physical closeness; the dentist’s face can be inches from a patient’s during treatment, which can make people feel uncomfortable and anxious when they think of the dentist.

Dental Procedure From Patient's POV

  1. Pain 

    “People associate dentistry with pain,” says Cosmetic Dentist Daniel Rubinshtein. “Back in the day, the dentist would come in, ask the patient to open wide and just start working on them.” 

    For many people, pain is the main reason they fear the dentist and in most cases, that dates back to their early dental visits.

Symptoms of Dental Phobia

If the prospect of a trip to the dentist fills you with terror, you may need help overcoming that fear. Here’s some signs of dental phobia to watch out for:

  • Difficulty sleeping the night before a dental appointment.
  • Feelings of nervousness that escalate in the dental surgery waiting room.
  • The thought of the dentist makes you feel like crying, and the sight of dental instruments fills you with dread.
  • The thought of going to the dentist makes you feel physically ill.
  • The antiseptic smell in the dental surgery makes your heart heavy.
  • You feel queasy at the thought of objects being inserted into your mouth, a feeling that escalates when it happens.

Treatment of Dental Phobia

If any of the symptoms above describe you, it’s important to talk to your dentist. Explain how you feel; express your fears and concerns. A good dentist will hear you out and try to help.  

Cheerful Boy

Dr Rubinshtein says, “Nowadays, there are so many tools to help communicate with patients before a procedure such as social media, email, and videos to name a few. Showing a patient what to expect for each procedure can calm them down.”

Feeling calm around the dentist is possible, even for the terrified. The first step is to establish the cause of your fear and work from there.

Injection Time

If your misgivings stem from a bad experience, counteract it with a new, positive experience. If your fear is caused by the anticipation of pain, discuss the procedure with your dentist. Ask about alternative treatment methods. Trust between dentist and patient is important so if something feels ‘off’, trust your gut and ask your friends or family to recommend someone new.

If despite everything your fear persists, your dentist may refer you to a mental health professional for extra help. Given the hi-tech nature of modern dental techniques, your annual check-up should be almost as relaxing as a trip to the spa.


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Why Do People Fear the Dentist?
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