Is Dental Fear Real?

Apr 02, 2024

Is Dental Fear Real?

We’ve been in the business a long time, so we’ve seen just about everything come through our office, including patients who walk in dragging their heels. 

Dental fear is an incredibly real and often oppressive problem that studies say is felt by over a third of the population

But we’re here neither to shame nor condone. Dental fear is real, but it’s also really manageable. 

In this blog, our team of dentists at Lifetime Dental Care in Woodbridge, Virginia, helps you understand why you fear the dentist and offers practical solutions to push you past your phobia. 

Understanding dental fear

Dental fear — also known as dental anxiety, dentophobia, or odontophobia —  affects everyone differently. You might have feelings of distress that cause you to worry about pain during dental treatment,  but you’ll still get yourself to our office for routine checkups. 

But, in the most severe cases, you might avoid seeing the dentist even when you’re in pain. 

There’s nothing inherently frightening about the dentist, especially the dentists on our team. So what’s causing all the panic? If you have dental fear, you’re most likely apprehensive of:

  • Anesthetic medicine not working as it should
  • The side effects of anesthetics
  • Blood or bleeding
  • Choking, gagging, or not being able to breathe or swallow
  • Pain during or after treatment
  • Needles
  • The sound and sensation of drills and other dental tools
  • The smell of chemicals and other aromas in our office

Many patients associate negative feelings with dentists because they’ve had bad experiences in the past. 

Virtually anyone can develop dental fear, but you’re more likely to experience it if you already have another fear or mental health disorder, including other phobias, anxiety, panic disorder, or even substance use disorder. 

Dental fear can also run in the family, especially if those around you talk negatively about the dentist. 

How dental fear affects you

You might also feel embarrassed about the state of your oral health, or you may not want a person working so closely to your face. Some of our patients tell us they feel helpless sitting in our chair for long periods. 

Sometimes, dental fear can trigger intense physical and emotional symptoms, such as chills, dizziness, sweating, nausea, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, crying, and insomnia. 

Diagnosing dental fear

Because dental fear is real, it can be diagnosed. If you think you have even a small amount of anxiety surrounding dental treatment, we recommend you talk to your primary care physician and/or a mental health expert. 

If you discover that you do have dental fear, we accommodate your needs to keep you comfortable and relaxed during your visit to our office. 

Getting a handle on dental fear

If you’ve seen a mental health provider for dental fear, you likely have an action plan that includes a combination of exposure therapy, talk therapy, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques. You may even benefit from visiting our office and not receiving treatment, gradually increasing  your tolerance. 

We also offer our patients sedation dentistry services. There are three basic types: nitrous oxide (laughing gas), oral sedation, and general anesthesia. 

Each type is safe for both adults and children. Depending on your needs, we may recommend laughing gas to simply calm your nerves, oral sedation to further deaden your senses and keep you from remembering your treatment, or general anesthesia to render you unconscious from start to finish. 

Whatever has caused your fear of the dentist, there’s no reason it has to be a lifelong struggle. If you or your child has dental fear, let’s talk about your options for treatment. Don't hesitate to call our office at 703-499-9779 or use our online booking tool to talk with an expert today.