Why People are Afraid of the Dentist and How to Help

Why People are Afraid of the Dentist and How to Help

For the vast majority of dental patients, a routine cleaning or even a root canal are a necessary part of life. Sometimes it’s annoying, but it’s just part of taking care of your teeth. However, for some people, the idea of going to the dentist fills them with nothing but dread.

According to the Dental Fears Research Clinic in Seattle, Washington, about eight percent of all people avoid the dentist completely out of fear. Another 20 percent only go to the dentist when it’s absolutely necessary due to anxiety.

What causes all this fear, and how can people overcome the anxiety so they can get the dental care they need?

Reasons Why People are Afraid of the Dentist

Reasons Why People are Afraid of the DentistLet’s start with some of the most common reasons people are afraid to make an appointment, get a check-up, or have work done on their teeth.

Fear of Pain

Many times people believe the procedure will be just as painful as their toothache. It makes them anxious, and it’s something they avoid at all costs. Some dental procedures aren’t nearly as painful as people fear they will be. Medication may be available to help lessen any pain.

Lack of Control

Sitting back in a chair, unable to move, while someone pokes around in your mouth – for some people, this sounds like an absolute nightmare. They feel out of control and worry they won’t be able to get up if they need to.

Previous Bad Experiences

One bad dental procedure can cause fear for years. It may have been unintended pain or a mistake that lead to stitches or more work. If it happens when someone is young, it can scar them well into their adult life.

There are other fears and concerns that keep people from seeking dental care.

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of the dental equipment
  • Fear of the dentist
  • Fear of loud noises
  • Inability to breathe well through their nose
  • Sensitive gag reflex

Regardless of your fears, there are options to help overcome them so that you can get the dental care you need to stay healthy.

Treatments for Dental Fears and Anxieties

Treatments for Dental Fears and AnxietiesFor some patients, their fears and anxieties are part of a larger mental illness. These patients benefit most from a combination of help from their doctor and/or therapist as well as a caring and understanding dentist. Many other patients are afraid for other reasons. If you’re afraid of going to the dentist for any reason, the “treatment” isn’t really medical help. Instead, it’s about being treated with compassion and understanding and finding the dentist who provides this for you.

Create a Non-Threatening Environment

For anyone who’s worried, fearful, or anxious. it’s recommended that you meet with the dentist before your first procedure, even if it’s just a cleaning. This allows you to explain your fears, ask plenty of questions, and decide if you feel comfortable in the office and with the staff. Many dentists try to create a non-threatening atmosphere to help patients feel more comfortable. The office might not look like a typical office. Good music and a change of scenery help people feel more relaxed, as well.

Feel More In Control

Look for a dentist who helps you feel in control of the situation. They should explain the procedure to you, what you will feel, and how long it will last. You should be able to request breaks or ask your dentist to stop if you become uncomfortable. Your dentist may even look for reassurance from you that they can and should continue, checking in with you periodically to make sure you’re comfortable.

Helping You Relax

Much of your anxiety may be nerves and tension. You’re stressed because you don’t know what to expect. Part of overcoming this is finding ways to relax. Feel free to bring a trusted friend with you to your appointment, someone who helps you relax. Ideally, they won’t be afraid of the dentist, either. Take big, deep breaths to help your body unwind. Use distractions like music or podcasts that you can listen to or take advantage of any distractions the office provides like a TV. Keeping your mind on something other than your procedure will help.

Dental Sedation

If none of the available options are helping the fear and anxiety go away, ask about dental sedation options. You may benefit from a gentle form like nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas) or you may need something like oral sedation, medication to help you relax for your procedure. These can be extremely effective when the other methods can’t ease your anxiety. There’s nothing wrong with requesting extra help to get the dental care you need.


Being afraid of the dentist or anxious about dental appointments is more common than you may realize. The causes range from mental illness to previous bad experiences. Help is available for anyone who is scared and nervous. No one should feel they can’t get the dental work they need simply because they’re afraid. It’s important that you find a caring, compassionate dentist with a staff that’s willing to work with you.