Why Are People Scared of the Dentist?

Chances are that you, your children, or someone you know is scared of the dentist. Even if you don’t know someone who is scared of the dentist, you probably know someone that’s at least scared of needles.

Like most phobias, dental phobias are irrational anxieties, triggered from a bad experience in the past. Phobias and anxiety are rooted in irrational fear, and anybody can suffer from them. It’s not uncommon to see large and tough men, who are scared of needles.

We’ve even seen patients that have survived gunshot wounds and covered in tattoos, who tense up at the sound of a dental instrument. For those of you who don’t have dental anxiety, you might wonder the reason why people find the dentist so scary. And, if you do have a dental phobia, then you already know.

What the Research Shows About Dental Phobia

Most studies show that patients with dental anxiety are scared of being out of control, feeling embarrassed, or scared of the pain.

  • Feeling like you’re losing control. When you’re sitting in the dental chair, you’re in an incredibly vulnerable position. For one, you’re laid back in a chair with a bright light shining your face. You have people putting their fingers in your mouth, so you feel like you can’t express when you’re feeling pain. It can be especially nerve-wracking when your hygienist or dentist is asking you questions about your habits. This can then lead to the fear of embarrassment.

  • The fear of embarrassment. In a dental chair, your dentist or hygienist is literally in your face. We have to get up close and into your personal space to clean and inspect the nooks and crannies of your mouth. We apologize ahead of time, if your face feels invaded, but it’s just the nature of dentistry. This can make some people feel incredibly anxious. When people are already self-conscious about their teeth, this can lead to even more anxiety. Especially if your dentist and hygienist are asking you questions about your dental health habits. You could feel like you’re in more of an interrogation than a routine dental trip.
  • The fear it will hurt. Then, you have the fear of pain, which is the most common reason that someone might suffer from dental phobia. A study by the University of Toronto shows that patients are the most scared that their dental treatment will hurt. The study found that patients who experienced pain at the dental office as children are more likely to fear the dentist when they get older. Patients with higher educations were also more likely to experience a fear of pain at the dentist’s office. While we mentioned earlier that dental phobias usually stem from irrational fear, the fear of pain is completely natural. After all, who do you know that genuinely enjoys being in pain? Probably about the same amount of people that you know who genuinely enjoy going to the dentist. Some people have lower pain thresholds than others, which can make them even more susceptible to fear of dental pain. When people are expecting pain, they might also find simple preventative procedures (like routine cleanings) painful, even if they’re not really physically feeling pain. The human brain is powerful, and it is actually able to trick people into believing they feel pain, even when they’re not.

While the three reasons above are common reasons patients might have a dental phobia, there can also be other factors involved. Sometimes people have dental anxiety for no physical reason at all.

Despite the reason that you or someone you know has dental anxiety, it’s important that you acknowledge these are real fears, even if there’s no immediate reason to be fearful. There are also ways to treat your dental anxiety through sedation dentistry. If you or someone you know has a fear of the dentist that’s making them miss dental appointments, it’s important that treatment is sought.