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Do you have an overwhelming fear of going to the dentist? Then you may be suffering from dentophobia (fear of the dentist). Here we explain what it is and how you can get help.

What is dental fear?

Dental fear, also known as dentophobia, is an intense fear or anxiety about going to the dentist. This fear can be so strong that it prevents the person from receiving necessary dental care, which can lead to serious oral health problems and general health issues. Dental fear can vary in severity from mild anxiety to a severe phobia. It can be helped in treatment.

What causes dental fear?

Dental fear can have several causes that often interact. A common cause is a previous negative or painful experience with the dentist. Many people with dental fear are afraid of the pain they associate with dental care. The feeling of loss of control or helplessness when sitting in the dental chair can also contribute to the development of this fear. Read more below.

According to Beyond Blue, 3 million Australians are living with anxiety. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. 1 in 4 people will experience anxiety at some stage in their life.

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Shame and concern about the condition of their teeth can make people feel anxious about being judged or criticized by the dentist, which can exacerbate the fear. For some, the dental equipment itself, such as the sound of the drill, can be the source of anxiety.

In addition, people with general trauma or anxiety disorders may be more likely to develop dental fear. These different factors can combine to create a strong and persistent fear of going to the dentist.

How common are phobias?

According to research in the field, approximately 8-12% of the population suffer from one or more phobias in their lifetime. These can range from common phobias such as fear of heights and social phobia to lesser known ones such as ‘hole phobia’ (trypophobia).

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Symptoms of dental fear

The symptoms of dental fear can vary in intensity from person to person, but they often include a strong sense of worry or anxiety about going to the dentist. This fear can be so strong that it leads the person to avoid or postpone necessary dental care. Many people with dental fear experience panic attacks, including symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating and shortness of breath at the thought of or during a dental visit.

Nausea and dizziness are also common, especially when approaching the dental clinic or sitting in the waiting room. Difficulty sleeping the night before the dental appointment is another common symptom, as is an unpleasant or intense feeling of anxiety in the days or even weeks before the appointment. For some, the mere thought of dental care or seeing dental-related images or tools can trigger strong anxiety reactions. If you have symptoms of dental fear, don’t worry, there are effective treatments. It is possible to overcome the phobia and improve your quality of life.

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How can dental fear be treated?

Treatment for dental fear usually involves a combination of methods to reduce anxiety and fear. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment, where the patient learns to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours related to dental visits. Exposure therapy can also be used, where the patient is gradually exposed to their fears in a safe environment. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are useful for reducing anxiety before and during dental visits.

Open communication with the dentist is essential, as is education about what the treatment entails. Many dentists are trained to deal with patients with dental fear and can adapt the treatment, for example by having longer appointments or taking breaks during the treatment. In some cases, sedation, such as tranquilizers or nitrous oxide, can be used to facilitate treatments.

Mindfulness and meditation can also help reduce anxiety. Starting with simple treatments and gradually increasing the complexity can help the patient build up their comfort with dental visits. It is important that the treatment of dental fear is done gradually and in collaboration with an understanding and experienced dentist. Over time, these methods can help to significantly reduce or eliminate the fear of visiting the dentist.

How therapy can improve your life

Seeking professional help can significantly improve your quality of life. As it gives you effective tools to manage phobias and can change the pattern you have developed that causes anxiety. Seeking help for psychological problems can be embarrassing, but talking to a psychologist or therapist can be extremely liberating and helpful if you are living with a phobia that is hindering your daily life.

Take the first step to booking a therapy session

Life is too short to let phobias limit you. Therefore, therapy is a step in the right direction to help you live a full and rich life. If you or someone you know is living with phobias, professional therapy can make a real difference. Our therapists and psychologists offer a confidential and safe environment to explore and treat your phobias.

12 common questions and answers about dental phobia

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an irrational and intense fear or anxiety about a particular object, situation or activity. This fear is usually long-lasting and can be very limiting in daily life.

How are phobias different from ordinary fears?

Ordinary fear is a natural reaction to an actual danger, while a phobia is an exaggerated fear that has no rational explanation. Phobias can be triggered even when there is no actual risk.

Are phobias common?

Yes, phobias are one of the most common forms of mental health problems. It is estimated that a significant proportion of the population suffers from at least one form of phobia.

What is odontophobia (dental fear)?

Dental fear, also known as odontophobia, is an intense fear or anxiety about visiting the dentist.

What causes dental fear?

Dental fear can be caused by previous bad experiences, fear of pain, anxiety about dental conditions and feelings of helplessness during visits. The sound of dental equipment and past trauma or anxiety can also come into play.

Is it possible to get rid of a phobia?

Yes, with the right treatment and support, phobic symptoms can be treated. However, it usually requires the help of a licensed psychologist or therapist and a consultation with the dentist.

How does the treatment work?

Treatment can vary but often involves cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with exposure and medication if necessary. The dentist can also be helpful in overcoming the therapy as they have a lot of experience with dental fear.

What are the symptoms of dental fear?

Dental fear can lead to avoidance of dental care and cause panic attacks, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, difficulty sleeping before appointments and intense anxiety about dental appointments. The sight of dental equipment can also trigger anxiety.

What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

CBT is an active evidence-based treatment method that works with thoughts, feelings and behaviors in different situations to improve quality of life and overcome certain symptoms. It has been shown to provide good results in cases such as phobias.

What is exposure in treatment?

Exposure is a tool in CBT where you gradually approach what you are afraid of in a systematic and safe way together with a psychologist or therapist.

I have started to avoid going to the dentist, what can I do?

If you have a fear of the dentist that affects or limits your life, you can seek treatment. There is effective help available.

Where can I seek help for my phobia?

If you suffer from a phobia, we recommend that you contact a licensed psychologist or therapist. You can book a first appointment with one of our therapists here at Lavendla. We make the hard things easier.

Treatment of odontophobia (dental fear)

Here’s how to treat dental fear. It can be overwhelming, but know that you are not alone in overcoming your fear. There is help available and here is an idea of what treatment might look like:

  1. Psychological therapy: especially Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to address negative thought patterns and behaviours related to dental visits.
  2. Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation to reduce anxiety.
  3. Communication with the dentist: Discussing fears and getting detailed information about treatments can help.
  4. Gradual exposure: Start with light treatments and gradually increase to more complex ones.
  5. Sedation techniques: Use of sedatives or nitrous oxide if needed during treatments.
  6. Support groups and community: Share experiences and strategies with others suffering from dental fear.
  7. Mindfulness and meditation: to help focus the mind and reduce anxiety.
  8. Personalized dental visits: Longer visit times and breaks during treatment if needed.

These strategies can be combined and personalized to effectively manage dental fear. Feel free to book a first session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to see how we can help you.

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Written by melissa

Melissa is a Certified Kinesiologist who focusses on a client-centred, holistic and integrative approach to health and wellness. She has extensive experience in managing stress, anxiety, fears, phobias and trauma in her clients. Melissa uses visual and auditory feedback to directly access and solve the cause of psychological stressors in the body so that optimal well-being and balance is achieved.