Updated on February 7, 2024
7 min read

What is Dentophobia, and What Can You Do About It?

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You’re not alone if you experience fear or stress before dental treatment. About 25% to 36% of the population suffers from dental anxiety.1,6 However, going to the dentist is essential for maintaining healthy teeth.

Dental phobia is a more severe, irrational fear of the dentist. Dental phobias can cause you to avoid seeking dental care, even when in pain. 

Skipping dental appointments negatively affects more than just oral health. Dental health is closely related to overall health.

Fortunately, you can take steps to relieve dental anxiety. This article explains dentophobia, its causes, and ways to reduce anxiety before and during dental treatment.

What is Dentophobia?

Dentophobia (dental phobia) is an extreme fear of the dentist. People with dental phobia may experience severe fear just thinking about visiting a dental office.

Male dentist in black uniform and gloves reaching to patient POV shot

Many adults in the U.S. experience some level of dental anxiety but manage to see their dentist regularly. Some avoid dental care altogether.

What Do People With Dentophobia Fear?

Various aspects of the dental setting can trigger severe fear in people with dentophobia. Common triggers include:

  • Local anesthetic injection — This is the most common dental fear, especially among people who had traumatic experiences with anesthesia not working properly.1
  • Needles — Needle phobia is another common phobia that may cause fear about injections and IV sedation during dental work.
  • Dental chair Lying flat in a dentist’s chair can make people feel vulnerable and afraid, especially if they’ve experienced sexual assault.
  • Dentist — Some people develop a general fear of the dentist based on previous bad experiences with a dentist.
  • Noise — The high-pitched sound of a dental drill or other tools a dentist or dental hygienist uses can elicit fear. 

Is Dentophobia the Same as Dental Anxiety?

Dental anxiety and dentophobia are similar but distinct conditions. Mental health professionals use questionnaires like the Modified Dental Anxiety Scale (MDAS) to asses phobic and anxious patients.


A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. It involves intense fear of a situation or event that’s not dangerous or threatening.

Dentophobia is a specific phobia that involves extreme dental fear. People with dentophobia may avoid dental treatment to an extent that’s harmful to their health. 

Avoiding dental care increases the risk of problems like tooth decay and gum disease. These dental issues can affect a person’s overall health, as well as their relationships and career.

Dental Anxiety

Dental anxiety is more common and less severe than dentophobia. People with dental anxiety may feel mild anxiety, stress, or worry leading up to a dental appointment. However, they don’t experience the same intense dental fear as people with dentophobia.

While dental anxiety is uncomfortable, most people who have it will still go to the dentist when needed. This is the main difference between dental anxiety and dentophobia.

What Causes Dentophobia?

Many things can make people afraid of going to the dentist. Some people develop dentophobia as a result of past trauma involving dental treatment. 

These traumas include:

  • Experiencing painful or complicated dental procedures
  • Being disrespected or dismissed by a dentist or clinic staff
  • Having a bad experience in another healthcare or hospital setting
  • Hearing about a bad dental treatment experience from a friend or family member

For example, someone who experiences a perforation of the sinus cavity from a tooth extraction may have anxiety about going to the dentist again.

What Other Phobias Can Cause Dentophobia?

Anxiety associated with various other phobias may cause extreme dental fear, such as:

  • Algophobia — Fear of pain
  • Trypanophobia — Fear of needles
  • Latrophobia Fear of all doctors, including dentists and dental hygienists
  • Emetophobia — Fear of gagging and/or vomiting
  • Aphenphosmphobia — Fear of being touched

How Common is Dentophobia?

Dental phobia is a common problem. Approximately 12% of people suffer from extreme dental fear.1 

Unlike many other phobias, dental phobia affects both sexes. However, it’s twice as common in women as in men (4.6% vs 2.7%, respectively).5

Symptoms of Dental Phobia

Dentophobia symptoms can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms of dental phobia include:

  • Avoidance of the dentist
  • Feelings of intense fear or dread
  • Fear that you might die
  • Refusing dental care due to fear of pain, gagging, use of needles, etc.
  • A panic attack at the thought of a dental appointment
  • Shaking or trembling at the dentist’s office or waiting room
  • Nausea with or without vomiting before a dentist visit
  • Rapid heart rate or heart palpitations
  • Sweating or chills
  • Dizziness

Dental Anxiety Treatment Options 

Dental anxiety can feel debilitating. But avoiding the dentist’s office has more risks. 

Issues like tooth decay, periodontal disease, and oral cancer can become emergencies if not detected early enough. Cavities can also develop if plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed during professional teeth cleanings.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat dental anxiety. Below are some available treatment options to reduce dental fear and anxiety:

Exposure Therapy

Also called systemic desensitization, this is a common treatment for many phobias, including dental phobia. It’s a type of talk therapy in which you’re gradually exposed to situations that may trigger dental anxiety.

You work with a mental health professional who teaches you relaxation techniques. Then, they slowly introduce triggers. Start with what you fear the least and work up to the most severe triggers.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This type of talk therapy teaches people how to restructure their beliefs about a topic, such as dental care. 

CBT sessions also help people learn the skills and strategies to develop a positive mindset around going to the dentist. Peer-reviewed studies show that CBT effectively reduces dental anxiety and phobia.5


Dentists may use different medications to soothe a person during their visit. These medications include:

  • Conscious sedation This involves taking an oral pill or using IV sedation to help you relax, but not necessarily put you to sleep
  • Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) This type of dental sedation involves inhaling nitrous oxide through a face mask to help you relax
  • General anesthesia This makes you fall asleep.

Dentists may also prescribe anxiety medications such as Xanax or Valium for you to take before a dental procedure.

Behavioral & Relaxation Techniques

Various behaviors and relaxation methods can help you overcome dental fear and anxiety. Some treatments involve working with a professional, while others can be done at home or in the dentist’s office.

Common techniques include:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Distraction with movies or music (at the dentist’s office)
  • Meditation

Gentle Dentistry

This treatment approach involves calmly explaining dental procedures as the dentist performs them. 

The dentist will explain what they’re doing in a soothing manner to help people relax in the dental chair. After the procedure, the dentist may use positive reinforcement to encourage a person and help boost their confidence.

Dental Research

People can often help themselves overcome their fears by researching before choosing a general dentist.

If a person believes they can trust their dentist, they’re likely to feel less afraid. They may even request to meet with the dentist before a procedure to ensure they feel comfortable.

What Can a Dentist Give You for Anxiety?

A dentist can prescribe various medications to treat a patient’s anxiety. This is known as sedation dentistry.

They may give the patient a mild sedative like laughing gas and local or general anesthesia. Medications like Valium and Xanax may also be used.

Can Xanax Help with Dental Anxiety?

Xanax may help with dental anxiety in patients. However, it’s just one of the ways that dentists can help treat dentophobia.

Can Anxiety Cause Dental Problems?

Developing poor dental hygiene is the biggest concern with avoiding a dental appointment due to anxiety. Dental visits are necessary — even for anxious patients — to keep health problems at bay. 

While negative experiences in the dentist’s chair can take a toll on someone’s mental health, forgoing dental checkups can also take a toll on physical health.

Avoiding treatment for too long can lead to painful cavities, a root canal, gum disease, and even oral cancer. Talk to the team at your dental practice about ways to help overcome dental anxiety to ensure you receive proper care.


  • Dentophobia, or dental phobia, is an extreme fear of going to the dentist
  • People with dentophobia can fear different elements of a dental visit, such as pain or needles
  • Avoiding the dentist can lead to dental disease, rotten teeth, and poor general health
  • There are many behavioral and relaxation methods to ease dental anxiety
  • Dentists can also administer medications to soothe a person during their visit

Last updated on February 7, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 7, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Beaton et al. “Why Are People Afraid of the Dentist? Observations and Explanations.” Medical Principles and Practice, 2014. 
  2. Corry, J. “Dentophobia – What Is It and How Can It Be Helped?” Smilelign, 2019.
  3. Dentophobia: What Is It Ans How Can We Help You Overcome It.” Pleasant Family Dentistry, nd. 
  4. Leutgeb et al. “Can you read my pokerface? A study on sex differences in dentophobia.” European Journal of Oral Sciences, 2013.
  5. Appukuttan, DP. “Strategies to manage patients with dental anxiety and dental phobia: literature review.” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dentistry, 2016.
  6. Hoffman, et al. “Management strategies for adult patient with dental anxiety in the dental clinic: a systematic review.” Australian Dental Journal, 2022.
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