A young woman having dental treatment looks up at her dentist anxiously.

Is it normal to be scared of the dentist?

One thing that stands between some people and getting professional help for dental problems is a fear of the dentist. Below, we explore what that entails and why people might be afraid.

What is a fear of the dentist called?

Lots of people talk about being scared of the dentist, but there are actually two types of this phenomenon: dental anxiety and dental phobia. 

Dental anxiety is the most common type of fear of the dentist. If you experience dental anxiety, the thought of seeing your dentist might make you want to delay an appointment. You might also be anxious about something related to your visit, rather than the dentists themselves. For instance, a fear of needles or drills could prompt dental anxiety. 

If you have dental anxiety, you should still be able to make it to your dentist appointment and have a check-up or treatment as needed. If your fear is extreme enough to stop you from seeing your dentist at all, that is classed as a dental phobia. Your fear might also be classed as a phobia if it’s irrational – for example, you can’t find any reasoning behind the fear, but you still can’t see your dentist.

Why are people scared of the dentist?

There are lots of reasons that could be behind a feeling of anxiety associated with seeing a dentist. Many children are scared of the dentist simply because it’s something new and unusual, and that fear can carry through into adulthood due to the initial experience being scary for them. 

In some cases, a fear of dentists can be caused by a past bad experience. Some people avoid going to the dentist for years after having a painful or scary experience. They often prefer to use at-home products to look after their oral health, such as Dentek’s Triple Clean Floss Picks which have a fluoride coating that helps to strengthen the teeth.[1] However, while these can help to protect your teeth, they’re only part of the solution. They’re no replacement for the expert advice of a dentist.

Other people might be nervous about seeing the dentist for reasons that seem quite logical. For instance, many people have a fear of the tools dentists use, like needles or drills. Others might worry about being in pain during any procedures, or be anxious about going under anaesthesia. In reality, though, you’re far more likely to be in pain from avoiding the dentist and your oral health problems getting worse as a result.[2] This can even lead to more major problems that warrant an emergency dentist appointment.

Another factor that can contribute to dentist anxiety is having financial concerns. If you’re due for a check-up, you might be tempted to put it off just to avoid the cost of it. It’s also the case that you might be nervous about what the dentist might find – because if there is a problem, you might need expensive treatment to resolve the issue. 

Of course, there are any number of reasons why you might be afraid of the dentist, and it’s important to be aware that you might not always be able to pin down a single cause. If your anxiety is creating problems for you in terms of dental problems going unresolved, or you’re worried it might get to that point, then it’s time to find a solution to fearing the dentist. 

Depending on your situation, you might be able to resolve your fear by speaking to your dentist about how you feel and specific triggers. They may be able to adapt how they work slightly to make the experience less daunting or stressful for you. But if the problem is deeper, such as a dental phobia, then you may need to seek advice from a mental health practitioner to find out what to do. Speaking to your dentist and/or GP can help you to find a trusted practitioner to help you out.


[1] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/fluoride/ 

[2] https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/dental-health/visiting-the-dentist/coping-with-a-fear-of-the-dentist/ 

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