Even though we’re aware that getting dental checkups and seeking timely treatment augur well for our oral health, many of us cannot help but feel a chill run down our spine at the mere thought of visiting the dentist.

Here are a few eye-opening facts on dental visits:

  • Percent of children aged 2-17 years with a dental visit in the past year: 84.6% (2016)
  • Percent of adults aged 18-64 with a dental visit in the past year: 64.4% (2016)
  • Percent of adults aged 65 and over with a dental visit in the past year: 64.3% (2016)


Mentioned ahead a few facts and figures pertaining to the time since the last dental visit:

  • 12% of adults aged 20 to 64 have not been to the dentist within the past 5 years.
  • 60% of all adults aged 20 to 64 have been to the dentist in the past year.
  • More Black and Hispanic Adults and those with lower incomes or less education have not been to the dentist in the past 5 years.
  • White adults and those with higher incomes and more education are more likely to have seen a dentist within the past year.


The reluctance to go to the dentist’s office and seek treatment has to do with fear and anxiety, which if left unaddressed, culminates into phobia.

The words ‘dental fear’ and ‘dental anxiety’ are often used by people, but ‘dental phobia’ is considered a different concept. In the British Journal of Psychiatry, Henry Lautch defined dental phobia as “a special kind of fear, out of proportion to the demands of the situation, which will not respond to reason, is apparently beyond voluntary control and leads to avoidance of dental treatment where this is really necessary.” Research also indicates that dental phobia is “one end of a continuum of dental anxiety.”

A lot of people choose to ignore their oral health issues because of their dental phobia. Heightened dental phobia and anxiety may need psychiatric intervention like hypnotherapy, cognitive therapy, guided imagery, acupuncture, and so on.

If you have dental phobia, rest assured, you’re not alone. In fact, you can take certain steps to alleviate and ultimately eliminate it.

Let’s take a look at some common dental phobias and ways to deal with them.

  1. Fear of the Dentist

This may come as a surprise, but a lot of people avoid getting dental treatment due to their fear of the actual dentist. This fear can stem from a bad experience in the past or from the perception that the dentist is someone ruthless who makes patients uncomfortable. However, you can put these fears to rest by getting to know your dentist better.

Tips to Manage It:

  1. Before seeking treatment and finalizing a plan, familiarize yourself with the dentist you’re considering and talk to him/her about your concerns. If the dentist genuinely has your best interest at heart, you will realize in no time that he/she only wants to help you.
  2. Work with a local dentist whose office you find comfortable. A local dentist is easily accessible, saving you time, effort and money. Residents of Chicago, for example, should visit a dentist in Chicago within their neighborhood. A lot of dentists go out of their way to make patients feel safe by adding soothing elements such as a waterfall, a fireplace or a music system to their office décor.
  3. During your first visit, take someone you trust along with you. This can be a close relative or a friend – someone who does not fear dentists.
  4. Once you’re in the dentist’s chair, distract yourself. Bring your own music on your iPod or ask the dentist to turn on the TV.
  5. Fear of Pain

Fear of pain is common among patients and may arise from an uncomfortable dental experience in the past. While some dental procedures are painful, steps can be taken to minimize the discomfort.

Tips to Manage It:

  1. Talk to your dentist regarding the use of anesthetics and numbing gels in your treatment. These reduce the pain to a great extent.
  2. Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing to ease your fear. Remember, fearfulness makes you more sensitive to pain.
  3. Find a great dentist you’re comfortable with. You never know, he/she may change your perception of pain.
  4. Fear of Needles

The fear of needles is also called Belonephobia. This fear can be intense and even deter patients from getting the treatment they need. They avoid putting themselves through any procedure (including dental) that involves the use of needles.

This fear is typically rooted in an event that may have coerced the patient to undergo painful procedure involving needles, evoked feelings of loss of control due to physical and/or emotional restraint, and maybe the aftereffect of watching a loved one in pain.

Tips to Manage It:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings about being around needles and convey them to your dentist and his/her team before the appointment. Most doctors are familiar with ways to help you cope.
  2. A lot of dentists use potent numbing gels before administering dental injections to ensure you don’t feel any pain. Ask your dentist about using such gels.
  3. Fear of the Drill

A lot of people shudder at the sight of the dental drill and even other dental tools. In fact, just the sound of the drill can cause them to break into a sweat.

Tips to Manage It:

  1. Inform your dental care provider and his/her team about your fear of the drill (or any other tool) and ask them for help to familiarize you with it.
  2. Try holding the drill in your hand for a while when it’s running so that you can see for yourself that your fear is uncalled for.
  3. Distract yourself. Listen to your favorite music on your earphones to drown out the sound of the drill.
  4. For allaying fear of pain from drilling, ask your dentist to use a good numbing gel. This way, you will feel only slight pressure and vibration, but no pain.
  5. Feeling of Loss of Control over the Situation

Patients with this kind of phobia may feel like they have no control over their situation as they sit confined to the dentist’s chair, with their mouth open, not able to talk, and unable to see the goings-on. A lot of people also feel uncomfortable with the physical proximity of the dentist to their face.

Tips to Manage It:

  1. Most dentists are aware of this fear and tell their patients to feel free to leave any time they want. They also frequently ask patients (during the treatment) if they can continue with the procedure. This way patients know they’re in control. Discuss this with your dentist.
  2. Let your dentist and his/her team know about your fear before the appointment. During the appointment, raise your hand to take a break as and when your anxiety starts to kick in.
  3. Unpleasant Prior Experience

This is the cause of many a dental phobia, and stems from a bad overall experience with the current or a past dentist. Such an experience may have caused feelings of uneasiness and even repulsiveness. This can mean being overcharged by a certain dentist, poor job by a hygienist, discourteousness by an assistant, or insensitivity by a dental team member. While such unfortunate incidents do happen, you need not become averse to visiting a dentist (same or new) in the future.

Tips to Manage It:

  1. Work towards establishing a good relationship with the dentist even before you visit him/her next. Use communication as your preferred tool for this and be vocal about your apprehensions. This way, the dentist will plan your treatment accordingly and work out cues to take a break or stop the treatment if you get uncomfortable.
  2. Keep yourself distracted with music or mental games like going over state capitals or counting odd numbers. If the dentist’s office is equipped with a TV, ask him/her to switch it on. You can also use a stress ball to calm your nerves.
  3. Bring someone you trust along with you to your appointment. Your close family and friends will understand your fears and give you some much-needed reassurance while you undergo the procedure.
  4. Try to schedule your appointment earlier in the day so that you don’t have to spend the entire day worrying about visiting the dentist.
  5. Fear of Sedation

Some patients fear that their teeth and gums won’t be numb enough and they will experience pain. Other patients fear that being sedated means they will not be in control. They also feel that they will suffocate, choke and be unable to swallow.

Tips to Manage It:

  1. Talk to your dentist who will assure you that for top teeth, only an individual tooth will be numbed. For bottom teeth, your tongue and/or cheek may feel as if they’re swollen when numbed, but they won’t be.
  2. Also know that only your teeth and/or gums will be numbed. You will only lose sensation in these areas, but not the function. You will be able to swallow when required, and won’t suffocate or choke.
  3. Feelings of Embarrassment of Oral Condition

Several people postpone getting dental treatments for months and even years, while their condition worsens. They then tend to feel embarrassed or ashamed of the poor condition of their mouth. They dread what the dentist might say to them about it.

Tips to Manage It:

  1. Remember, dental practitioners have dealt with all sorts of deteriorating oral conditions and won’t be offended by or be judgmental about yours.
  2. It is the dentist’s job to help people with poor oral health and prevent potential dental problems so you can have a healthy mouth.
  3. Call your dentist and tell him/her about the state of your mouth. Tell him/her you feel embarrassed to make a visit, but would like some help in fixing it. This will convey your concern to your dentist and he/she may help you feel better during your visit.
  4. Anxiety Related to Costs

Dental treatments can be costly, especially if not covered by your insurance. However, regular dental checkups will keep your oral condition in check, reducing the need for costly treatments in future.

In 2015, the cost of dental services and visiting the dentist was found to be the topmost reason for avoiding dental visits. In fact, 9% of people in the U.S. needed dental treatment in the previous year, but did not get it due to cost concerns.

Tips to Manage It:

  1. When your dentist tells you that getting a particular dental procedure is necessary, speak to his/her administrative staff about the payment options. Most offices will work out a mutually agreeable payment arrangement.
  2. If you stay near a dental school, volunteer to work with students, who are always looking for patients. You need not worry about the outcome as their work is closely supervised.
  3. Make it a point to go for six-month checkups. These are helpful in intercepting oral problems in the early stages and even avoid them altogether. For example, treating a cavity costs lesser than getting a root canal. Delays in seeking treatment due to anxiety about costs will only make the treatment more complex, expensive and lengthy.

Note: Some dentists may charge additional fees for providing sedation and relaxation facilities in their office. It is, therefore, best to always get a written estimate before commencing treatment.


Modern dentistry has made it possible for oral health practitioners and their administrative teams to render dental treatment with minimal discomfort to patients. Dentists are becoming increasingly receptive to patients’ concerns when visiting their office, which is why many provide them with a comfortable and supportive environment. Bear in mind that improving and maintaining your oral health are crucial, and these should be the main goals. Also remember, the right dentist will never push you to seek hasty treatment. Hopefully, the tips provided in this post will motivate you to make that much-needed dental appointment with your friendly neighborhood dentist at the earliest.