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Updated on July 25, 2022

Dental Anxiety (Dentophobia)

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What Is a Dentophobe?

A dentophobe is someone with a deep fear (phobia) of going to the dentist. Terms for this condition include dentophobia and dental anxiety.

Most adults in the United States experience some level of dental anxiety. But some avoid going to the dentist altogether.

Even though dental anxiety can feel debilitating, skipping out on visits to the dentist is dangerous. Issues like tooth decay, periodontal disease, and oral cancer can become emergencies if not detected early enough.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat dental anxiety.

smiling female dentist uniform talking teenage girl dental clinic

How Common is Dentophobia?

One study estimated approximately 36 percent of the population is afflicted by dental anxiety.

It also found another 12 percent suffer from extreme dental fear of the dentist.1

It affects both sexes, but is twice as common in women as in men (4.6 vs 2.7 percent, respectively).5

What Causes Dental Anxiety?

In most cases, a traumatic experience such as a complicated or painful procedure at the dentist can turn someone into a dentophobe.

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

Sometimes its not due to a procedure but to the dentist in particular. Someone may become a dentophobe due to feeling disrespected or dismissed by a rude dentist.

But bad experiences of one’s own are not always the culprits. Just hearing about someone else’s bad dental experiences can be enough to give someone dentophobia.

Various anxiety disorders may cause dentophobia, such as:

  • Algophobia — the fear of pain
  • Trypanophobia — the fear of needles
  • Latrophobia — the fear of all doctors including dental professionals like dental hygienists
  • Emetophobia — the fear or gagging and/or vomiting
  • Aphenphosmphobia — the fear of being touched

Symptoms of Dental Phobia

Some symptoms of dental phobia include:

  • Avoidance of the dentist
  • Refusing specific treatments due to fear of the pain, gagging, use of needles, etc.
  • Panicking or crying at the dentist’s office
  • Shaking or trembling at the dentist’s office
  • Nausea with or without vomiting before a dentist visit
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness

Dental Anxiety Treatment Options 

Below are some common treatment options available for dental phobia:

Medications

Dentists may use sedatives, nitrous oxide, a local anesthetic, or general anesthesia to soothe a patient.

They may also prescribe anxiety medications such as Xanax or Valium before a dental procedure. 

Behavioral & Relaxation Techniques

Some dental practices include psychologists on staff. These psychologists help patients manage their dentophobia through behavioral and relaxation techniques.

Common techniques include practicing deep breathing exercises, listening to soothing music with headphones (to drown out the noise of loud dental machines), meditating, and more.

Dental patients can practice some of these behavioral therapy techniques on their own, too.

Gentle Dentistry

This involves the dentist explaining the procedures they’re performing in a calming manner. They may also use positive reinforcement, praising the patient after a procedure to boost their confidence.

Dental Research

Patients can often help themselves overcome their fears by doing their research before choosing a general dentist.

If the patient believes that they can trust the dentist they choose, they’re likely to feel less afraid. They may even request to meet with the dentist prior to a procedure to make sure that they feel comfortable.

What can a dentist give you for anxiety?

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

They may give the patient a mild sedative like laughing gas along with or local or general anesthesia.

Medications like Valium and Xanax may also be used.

Can Xanax help dental anxiety?

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

Can anxiety cause dental problems?

The biggest concern with avoiding a dental appointment due to anxiety is developing poor dental hygiene. 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 take a toll on physical health too. Avoiding treatment for too long can lead to painful cavities, a root canal, gum disease, and even oral cancer.

Talk to the dental team at your dental practice about how you can overcome your dental anxiety, together, to ensure that you receive the oral care you need.

6 Sources Cited
Last updated on July 25, 2022
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, Laura, et al. “Why Are People Afraid of the Dentist? Observations and Explanations.Medical Principles and Practice : International Journal of the Kuwait University, Health Science Centre, S. Karger AG, 2014
  2. Corry, James. “Dentophobia - What Is It and How Can It Be Helped?Smilelign, Smilelign, 31 July 2019.
  3. Dentophobia: How to Overcome Your Fear of the Dentist.Pleasant Family Dentistry, 11 Sept. 2020
  4. Overcoming Dentophobia, a Fear of the Dentist.Gentle Dental of Michigan
  5. Leutgeb, Verena et al. “Can you read my pokerface? A study on sex differences in dentophobia.” European journal of oral sciences vol. 121,5 : 465-70.
  6. Appukuttan, Deva Priya. “Strategies to manage patients with dental anxiety and dental phobia: literature review.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dentistry vol. 8 35-50. 10 Mar. 2016.
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