What is the Difference Between Dental Anxiety and Dental Fears?

What is the Difference Between Dental Anxiety and Dental Fears?

People use the terms dental anxiety and dental fear interchangeably, but they’re really two separate things. Both come from a place of fear, but one usually leaves people with long-term dental problems and poorer health.

With a dentist who cares and knows how to help fearful patients, you don’t have to suffer from fears or anxieties alone. And you don’t have to have painful gums or a smile you hide either. No matter whether you suffer from dental anxieties or fears, it’s important to understand what they are and find a dentist who will work with you, no matter how scared you may be.

What is Dental Anxiety?

What is Dental Anxiety?Everyone feels anxiety at some point in life. Activities, events, and the things that occur in life can stress you out and make you feel uneasy. Going to the dentist is no different. For many people, the anxiety they feel is temporary and goes away once their procedure begins. Others, though, may experience a more severe sense of dental anxiety that goes beyond normal levels of stress.

Dental anxiety is characterized by feelings of stress associated with making an appointment, going to a dentist appointment, or being in the procedure room. Anxiety sufferers may delay their appointments or avoid going until they have no other choice. They wait until the pain is worse than their anxiety or their dental problem becomes unmanageable. Eventually, though, most anxiety sufferers will see the dentist.

Those who suffer from dental anxiety often have exaggerated or unfounded concerns or worries about what may happen. While it’s a lower level of fear than a phobia (more on that in a moment), it’s still very real for someone who suffers with it. For mild dental anxiety sufferers, nitrous oxide during an appointment may be enough to calm the nerves. For those with more severe anxiety, other dental sedation options should be discussed with your dentist.

What is a Dental Fear?

What is a Dental Fear?A dental fear isn’t the same thing as dental anxiety. Although we say “fear” what we really mean is a phobia. This is the next level beyond feeling anxious. It’s an irrational and uncontrollable feeling. Someone with a dental phobia is genuinely terrified of the dentist, parts of the procedure, or something else involving a dentist appointment.

Not all fears are the same so sufferers may fall on a spectrum. At one end is feeling tense and being unable to sleep before an appointment, and at the other end are people who refuse to go to the dentist for any reason. Their fear is so deep they can’t make themselves do it. Dental fears can manifest by feeling sick when thinking about seeing a dentist or panicking during an exam or procedure.

It is extremely important that patients with dental phobia find methods to help them get to the dentist. Sufferers of dental fear have a higher risk of gum disease and may have discolored or damaged teeth. They tend to have worse health and lower life expectancy than patients who don’t feel fear because they’re not taking care of their dental health.

Overcoming Fears and Anxieties

Overcoming Fears and AnxietiesA good dentist can help a patient deal with their dental fears and anxieties. Sedation options should be available for patients, based on what’s right for their individual needs. Oral sedation works by providing anxiety medication prior to the procedure so you can feel calmer.

Another key element in handling a dental phobia or severe anxiety is to identify exactly what you’re afraid of. Everyone is unique so not all causes or reasons will apply. A few common fears and anxieties include:

  • Pain
  • Needles
  • Loss of control
  • Bad previous experiences
  • Anxiety/fears of parents or family members
  • Not knowing what will happen
  • Dentist tools like drills

The best way to deal with your anxiety or phobia is to talk about it with your dentist or a mental health professional before it’s time to make a dental appointment. Your dentist should be willing to sit down with you and answer your questions. They can also walk you through what will happen in a procedure or structure a procedure so you can take breaks when needed. What matters most is that you find a dentist you feel comfortable working with and who will work with you to find solutions.


A dental anxiety and fear may technically be two separate things, but they have plenty of similarities. Both keep people from getting the dental care they need, and both have available treatment options to help you take better care of your dental health. Talk about your fears and anxieties and find the right options for you.