Dental phobia and Anxiety management.

Do you dread going to the dentist? Are you anxious about sitting in the dental chair and hearing the sound of the drill? If so, you're not alone. Dental phobia and anxiety are common conditions preventing people from seeking regular dental care, leading to serious oral health problems.  

Fortunately, there are a variety of strategies that can help people manage their dental anxiety and overcome their fears. In this blog, we'll explore what dental phobia is, what causes it, and how it can impact oral health. We'll also share tips for coping with dental anxiety, including behavioral techniques and exposure therapy. Whether you're someone who experiences dental anxiety or a dental professional looking to support your patients better, this blog will provide valuable insights and strategies for managing dental phobia.  

What is dental phobia?

Dental phobia, also known as dental fear or odontophobia, is an anxiety disorder that causes individuals to experience intense fear, anxiety, and avoidance of dental procedures. People with dental phobia may feel overwhelmed by the thought of going to the dentist, even for routine checkups and cleanings. They may fear needles, drills, or other dental instruments or experience pain or discomfort during a dental procedure.  

Dental phobia can significantly impact oral health, leading to avoidance of necessary dental treatments, which can worsen dental conditions over time. Dental phobia can also cause individuals to experience physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid heartbeat, and nausea.  

It's important to note that dental phobia is different from dental anxiety, which is a milder form of fear or nervousness that many people experience before a dental visit. While dental anxiety is common, dental phobia is more severe and can interfere with a person's ability to receive proper dental care.  

Causes of Dental Phobia   

  • Traumatic experiences: Negative experiences with dentists, such as pain or insensitivity, can create lasting emotional trauma.  
  • Fear of pain or loss of control: People may become anxious about experiencing pain or feeling helpless during a dental procedure.  
  • Fear of needles or dental instruments: People who fear needles may avoid dental treatments involving injections or sedation. Similarly, people afraid of dental tools, such as drills, may become anxious about a dental procedure.
Causes of Dental Phobia
  • Negative cultural beliefs: Negative beliefs or attitudes about dentistry, whether from family members or broader cultural messages, can create a sense of fear or dread around dental visits.  
  • Limited access to care: People with limited access to dental care may be more likely to develop a dental phobia, as they may only visit the dentist when they have a severe problem.  
  • Negative experiences with providers: People who have had negative experiences with dental providers, such as feeling judged or criticized, may be more likely to develop dental phobia.  
  • Underlying medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as anxiety or depression, may increase the likelihood of developing a dental phobia. These conditions can cause people to be more sensitive to stress or make it harder to cope with anxiety during dental visits.

Symptoms of Dental Phobia   

Symptoms of dental phobia can vary in severity and may include:  

  • Extreme anxiety or panic attacks before or during a dental visit  
  • Difficulty sleeping the night before a dental appointment  
  • Feelings of dread or terror at the thought of a dental procedure  
  • Avoiding dental appointments altogether  
  • Physical symptoms, such as nausea, dizziness, or sweating  
  • Crying or shaking during a dental procedure  
  • Feeling like you're choking or unable to breathe  
  • Urgent need to escape the dental office during a procedure  
  • A feeling of helplessness or loss of control during a dental process.

How common is dental phobia?   

Dental phobia is a common condition, affecting an estimated 5-10% of the population worldwide. Women are more likely than men to experience dental phobia, which tends to be more common among younger people. Additionally, people with traumatic dental experiences are at a higher risk of developing a dental phobia. However, many people experience anxiety or nervousness about dental procedures, even if they don't have a full-blown phobia.  

Consequences of untreated Dental Phobia

If left untreated, dental phobia can have several negative consequences, including:  

  • They delayed or missed dental appointments, leading to more serious dental problems and the need for more invasive procedures.  
  • Poor oral health can increase the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss.  
  • A negative impact on quality of life, as dental problems can cause pain, discomfort, and difficulty eating or speaking.  
  • Increased anxiety and stress, as people may worry about their oral health and feel guilty or ashamed about avoiding dental care.  
  • Higher healthcare costs, as serious dental problems, require more expensive and invasive treatments.  
  • Lower self-esteem and social isolation, as people may feel embarrassed or self-conscious about their dental problems.
untreated Dental Phobia

Strategies for managing Dental Phobia and Anxiety

Several methods can help manage dental phobia and anxiety, including:  

  • Talk to your dentist: Be open and honest with your dentist about your fears and concerns. They can work with you to create a treatment plan addressing your needs and concerns.  
  • Use relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, meditation, or visualization techniques can help you stay calm during dental procedures.  
  • Use distraction techniques: Listening to music or watching videos during a procedure can help distract you and reduce anxiety.  
  • Consider sedation: Your dentist may offer sedation options, such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas), oral sedatives, or IV sedation, to help you relax during a procedure.  
  • Bring a support person: Having a friend or family member accompany you to your appointment can provide comfort and support.  
  • Gradual exposure: Start with simple, non-invasive procedures and gradually work up to more complex procedures as you become more comfortable.  
  • Seek counseling: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy with a mental health professional can help you learn coping skills and overcome your fear of dental procedures.  

Overcoming dental phobia with Exposure Therapy   

Exposure therapy is a behavioral therapy that can help people overcome dental phobia. Exposure therapy aims to gradually expose the person to the feared situation, in this case, a dental procedure, in a safe and controlled environment. The person can overcome their phobia by repeatedly facing the fear and learning coping skills.  

Exposure therapy for dental phobia typically involves several stages:  

  • Education: The person is educated about dental procedures and what to expect during a visit.  
  • Relaxation techniques: The person learns relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation. It helps them stay calm during a dental procedure.  
  • Gradual exposure: The person is gradually exposed to dental procedures, starting with less invasive procedures and working up to more complex procedures.  
  • Coping skills: The person learns coping skills, such as positive self-talk or visualization, to manage anxiety and fear during a dental procedure.  
  • Reinforcement: The person is reinforced for facing fear and completing a dental procedure. This can include praise, rewards, or positive feedback from the dentist or therapist.  

Overall, exposure therapy can be an effective way to help people overcome dental phobia. Working with a qualified therapist or dentist with experience with this type of therapy is important.  

Benefits of seeking treatment for Dental Phobia   

There are several benefits to seeking treatment for dental phobia, including:  

  • Improved oral health: By seeking treatment and attending regular dental appointments, people with dental phobia can maintain better oral health, preventing more serious dental problems in the future.  
  • Reduced anxiety: With the help of therapy or medication, people with dental phobia can learn to manage their stress and fear, making dental appointments less stressful and more manageable.  
  • Increased self-esteem: Addressing dental phobia and improving oral health can boost self-esteem and confidence, leading to a more positive outlook.  
  • Reduced healthcare costs: By addressing dental problems earlier, people with dental phobia can avoid more expensive and invasive treatments, saving money in the long run.  
  • Improved overall health: Poor oral health has been linked to various health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. People can improve their health and well-being by addressing dental phobia and maintaining good oral health.  


In conclusion, dental phobia is a common problem that can significantly affect oral health and overall well-being. While it can be challenging to address, several strategies can help manage dental phobia and anxiety. These include talk therapy, relaxation techniques, distraction techniques, sedation, and gradual exposure therapy. Seeking treatment for dental phobia can have numerous benefits, including improved oral health, reduced anxiety, increased self-esteem, reduced healthcare costs, and improved overall health. By working with a qualified healthcare professional, you can learn to manage your fears and maintain good oral health.

Contact your Lafayette dentist, Dr. Massood Darvishzadeh, DDS at Lafayette Dental Group, to learn more about Dental phobia and Anxiety management.


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