Scared of the Dentist: 5 Ways Dentists Can Help People Deal With Dentophobia by Charles Sutera, DMD, FAGD

Dental Health
a year ago

Scared of the Dentist: 5 Ways Dentists Can Help People Deal With Dentophobia

Dental anxiety is real. But dental-care avoidance can have serious health impacts. Studies estimate that as many as 60 percent of dental patients have anywhere from mild to severe dental fear, and as many as 20 percent of Americans actually avoid going to the dentist because of their anxiety.

Though the exact cause of dental anxiety can vary, the most common is believed to stem from a past bad experience at the dentist. Other causes can include hearing or reading about negative encounters, as well as parental modeling.

Dental phobia (odontophobia and dentophobia) is an intense fear of anything that has to do with the dentist. Anxiety can arise whenever a person just thinks about a dental office, the patient room, dentist and dental procedures. People who suffer from dental anxiety often have a difficult time sleeping the night before a dental appointment. The phobia may also cause sufferers to feel physically ill, faint and/or get short of breath.

It’s important for dentists to be prepared and willing to discuss feelings of anxiety with patients and to have processes in place to help patients with high dental anxiety. Just as dental phobia starts from a negative experience, helping patients overcome dental phobia starts by creating a positive experience for them. Here are some pointers for helping patients work through their dental anxiety:

1. Communicate

Make sure your appointment process includes screening for anxiety and encourage staff to schedule a consultation appointment with patients who express a high level of dental anxiety. The consultation should be used to go over what will happen during the patient’s procedure, step by step, discuss how to eliminate specific triggers and assess whether the patient is a good candidate for sedation.

2. Share Calming Techniques 

Most people with anxiety disorders have their own go-to methods for lowering anxiety. Nevertheless, be prepared with information about different techniques that patients might find helpful, and be prepared to offer concessions that may help, like taking breaks, using distractions like music or a movie, a weighted blanket and/or simply learning as much about the procedure as possible.

3. Offer Breaks 

Allow for longer appointment times so that your anxious patient can take as many breaks as necessary to ease anxiety. Longer appointments give a patient time for a settling-in phase at the beginning, breaks during the appointment, and a calming period at the end.

4. Relinquish Control 

Letting the patient feel in control of the appointment can go a long way toward easing anxiety. Make sure the patient knows that they can ask for a break at any time during the appointment and that their request will be honored, no pressure, and no questions asked.

5. Offer Medication 

Never force through a procedure with a severely anxious patient. Depending on your office’s capabilities, offer oral or IV-administered sedation, or develop a referral relationship with a sedation dentist in your area.

Finally, remind patients not to saddle themselves with unrealistic expectations that they can overcome dental anxiety with one “good” dental experience. Working through anxieties and phobias takes time. Let them know that the key with dental anxiety is to make a commitment to move forward and give themselves guilt-free permission to find their own path at their own pace. Every person deserves to be healthy, and a big part of good health starts with the mouth.

The content on is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice. The information on this site should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, and is not a substitute for professional care. Always consult your personal healthcare provider. The opinions or views expressed on do not necessarily represent those of 30Seconds or any of its employees, corporate partners or affiliates.

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Helpful especially during the pandemic!
Great post! Thank you.
Elisa Schmitz
Dentophobia is real! These are great tips, thank you. Welcome to 30Seconds, Dr. Charles Sutera, FAGD . We look forward to learning more from you!

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