The Science Behind Your Dental Fear and What To Do About It

By Therese Vannier, RDA/OMSA June 7, 2018

It’s estimated that 9 percent to 15 percent of Americans avoid dental visits because of anxiety and fear. That’s about 30 million to 40 million scared people. Odontophobics choose to take flight rather than fight their fears. They tolerate gum infections, pain, bad breath and uncomely teeth because the alternative seems so much worse. If you count yourself among the dentally challenged, your fears are natural. Here are some possible explanations as to why you feel afraid and suggestions for conquering dental fear.

Dental Fear

Fear of airway blockage

When a stranger is poking around in your mouth with foreign objects, biology takes over in the form of anxiety. Your mouth is a vulnerable part of your body, and several basic needs are threatened via the mouth, including your airway. If your dentist allows water and saliva to build up in the back of your throat and uses nothing to protect your airway, consider finding a doctor who uses award-winning isolation devices like Isolite, Isovac, or Isodry. You’ll breath easy and won’t feel liquid pooling up back there.

Fear of leaning back

You feel vulnerable. When the chair goes back, your heart starts pumping and your mind starts dreaming of the moment it’s time to leave. The supine position is anything but natural, especially when water and saliva start pooling up in the back of your throat. Explain your discomfort and anxiety to your clinician. Most will work with you to keep you as upright as possible and give you plenty of breaks to help ease your dental fear.

Negative childhood experiences

We’re social animals who learn from our parents and those around us. If your parents are frightened of the dentist, chances are you might be too. And if your very first dental visit was a bad experience, fear could have taken hold. Kids who have lots of good dental experiences before they encounter something negative have a good chance of avoiding anxiety. Consider talking with a therapist who can help you visualize your happy place. Just keep swimming.

Fear of shots

Among the many reasons people avoid dental visits is a fear of needles. And rightly so, since the prick can hurt if not delivered with care. The good news is that dentistry has changed a lot over the years, and there are many types of devices for managing oral injection pain. Seek out a practice that uses a computer-controlled anesthetic delivery device or a dental injection comfort device for nerve distraction.

Fear of drills

A loud whizzing noise can make some patients run faster than Forrest Gump. There’s absolutely nothing natural about the sound of a high-speed drill––especially if it’s heading towards your mouth. Find a practice that swaps the harsh drill for a gentle laser.

The best thing to do is to find a dentist who is understanding and will help you work through the dental fear. Ask your friends if they know a good dentist who fits the bill. Once you locate the perfect one, be honest with them and talk about your anxiety. A well-trained clinician will know how to provide a positive experience. Bottom line, find a dentist you trust. Your teeth, mouth and body depend on good oral health.