4 MIN READ | Clinical Psychology

Dentophobia: Why Are We Afraid of the Dentist?

Nikka Celeste

Cite This
Nikka Celeste, (2020, July 3). Dentophobia: Why Are We Afraid of the Dentist?. Psychreg on Clinical Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/why-are-we-afraid-of-the-dentist/
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It is known that almost a quarter of our population has a fear of dentists. Based on a study last 2014, around 36% of our population are suffering from dental anxiety and another 12% are suffering from extreme dental fear.

This can have a serious effect on a person’s oral health and can cause them to have a dental avoidance. Dental avoidance means fully avoiding dental check-ups or anything related to dentists and it can lead to poor oral health. This can also influence the quality of life for there are many studies that show that people with low oral-health quality of life are related to high dental anxiety.

Dental anxiety vs dentophobia

Dental anxiety, as defined by Isador Coriat, who first adopted the term, is an ‘excessive dread of anything being done to the teeth with the result that any dental surgery, no matter how minor, or even dental prophylaxis, maybe so postponed or procrastinated that the inroads of the disease may affect the entire dental apparatus.’

Dental fear and dental anxiety are often used interchangeably because it is also suggested that dental fear is an ‘anticipatory anxiety’ because it stemmed from a fear of real danger and an anticipated unknown danger.

While dental fear and dental anxiety is the same, dental phobia has a different concept. 

Dental phobia or dentophobia is the fear of dentists and is common because it is related to fear of doctors and fear of needles. In simple terms, dentophobia is the fear of going or visiting the dentist. While it is true that many patients get slightly nervous when it comes to visiting the dentist, dentophobia is a different situation. It is when an individual experiences an extreme fear that it manifests itself and/or a huge feeling of dread occurs before every appointment. If decay or gum disease has set in and a patient starts refusing to attend, the chances are that this will only worsen thus seriously affecting a person’s oral health.

For example, if an individual badly needs to visit a dentist because of the worsening growth of his wisdom tooth but refuses to, often misses his dental appointments and when in the dental room, started crying and can’t even sit on the dental chair, then we can classify that as dentophobia.

Causes of dentophobia

There are many reasons why many people suffer from dentophobia. Here are some:

Related specific phobias. As mentioned earlier, dentophobia is related to several phobias such as fear of the doctors and fear of the needles. Here are some of the phobias associated with dentophobia:

  • Algophobia – fear of continuous hurt. In common terms, it’s the fear of pain. Though algophobia is more common to people over 65 years old, it can still be related to dentophobia because lots of individuals don’t want to go to their dentist for the fear of getting hurt.
  • Trypanophobia the irrational fear of needles. It’s most typical in children because adults tend to grow out of this phobia as their pain thresholds get higher. But some people do continue with trypanophobia as they become older and it is detrimental to their health. It can cause individuals to miss essential jabs and medical aid, leading to a higher risk of illness.
  • Iatrophobia – the fear of doctors. this will be further generalised to when enormous amounts of hysteria occur when dealing with any kind of medical professional (including dentists). It is another phobia that can be hugely damaging to a person’s well being and may end in them missing/postponing crucial treatment.
  • Emetophobia – the fear of vomiting. This phobia is more specific to the dental industry because it may be tied with the fear of gagging. Often during a visit, the patient is required to carry their mouth open for long periods of your time while the dentist works away inside. Someone with a strong pharyngeal reflex (gag reflex) could also be extremely worried that their throat muscles will contract while this is often occurring.
  • Aphenphosmphobia – the fear of being touched. this can be only intensified when it’s by another individual that the sufferer isn’t close to/comfortable with. Aside from having a harmful effect on building intimate relationships, it’s known to be especially traumatic with members of the opposite sex.

Genetics. On initial glance, you wouldn’t think that being anxious about a dentist probing could be hereditary. But it is accepted in the medical community that a previous disposition is often passed down genetically from parents. Family members and other relations who are known to suffer from other phobias, or have anxious personalities generally can have an impact on a person’s mental stability.  It’s important to state that phobias can be the result of multiple causes. Including the environment, previous trauma, and genetics.

Previous experiences. The most common cause for most phobias, including dentophobia, is that they’re the results of a previous traumatic experience and this is what most behavioral psychologists conclusively agree. If the sufferer has had a previous experience that was particularly painful, levels of tension, anxiety and overthinking can increase.

It’s especially pertinent if the dentophobe, or the person experiencing dentophobia, had a negative experience on their very first trip to the dentist. All the next appointments or visits can then be psychologically stressful because of the previous negative experience the person encountered with the dentist.

Overcoming dentophobia

One good thing about phobias is that they can be treated. There are many techniques that are used by psychologists and other mental health professionals to battle phobia depending on the severity. Here are some ways to overcome dentophobia:

  • Consult with a psychologist or a mental health professional. A frequent technique used is cognitive behavioral therapy, which changes your thoughts in a gradual manner. This process teaches ways on how to address your fear or anxiety while having your teeth fixed.
  • Breathing techniques and meditation can help you relax when your teeth are being cleaned. Many mental health professionals suggest people with anxiety to count the number of breaths they take while deep breathing. You can do this before the actual procedure, or in the waiting room, to put our body in a calm state.
  • Talk to your dentist about your anxiety. This is actually obvious but it’s a way for them to understand your situation and calmly explain the procedures they’re gonna do. This can also help you gain an insight into why those procedures are necessary. Overall, this helps build a trusting relationship with your dentist.
  • Distract yourself. Be imaginative. While your gums and teeth are being inspected, think about anything apart from what’s actually going on to prevent you from being anxious. It can be a happy experience, place, or person. You can also try listening to the music of the clinic or simply stare at a picture on the wall and make stories with your mind from it.

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Image credit: Freepik

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