Ann MacDonald

Afraid of the dentist? How do you deal with it?

In our October issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, we offer advice about how to manage dental phobia. I’d love to hear from readers of this blog about what techniques they use to cope with their own dental fear. I’ll compile representative replies in a later post.

(This issue is one I grapple with myself. Every time I go to the dentist, my palms sweat and my pulse pounds. Anti-anxiety drugs haven’t helped much, so I’ve been experimenting with different relaxation methods.)

Are you afraid of the dentist? What helps you? What hasn’t helped? What advice would you offer someone else?

Please email replies directly to mental_health@hms.harvard.edu and put “Dental fear” in the subject line.

Thanks so much!

Comments:

  1. Nathan Woodbury

    To alleviate the overcoming any fear including fear of the dentist is on how you define fear. As we all know knowledge is the powerful weapon against fear.

  2. Belinda Stroming

    The truth is, i almost always look for sleep dentists whenever I am looking to have my teeth repaired. After I got my first experience in sleep/sedation dentistry, I started to feel more comfortable having my teeth done compared to before where I have to watch and listen while the dentist does his / her work. sleep dentistry is used to provide a relaxing and anxiety-free experience for receiving dental treatment. It enables individuals who are often afraid to go to the dentist to receive the dental care they need while avoiding the common apprehension known as dental phobia.

    I think I very much fit that category.

  3. Mark Gilkey

    I truly believe to John’s statement that “to overcome dentist fear is to find a dentist that is friendly and understands you”.

    You can get the information of good dentist from your relatives, colleges or you can check via many of online sites available on web.

  4. john

    One of the best ways to overcome dentist fear is to find a dentist that is friendly and understands you.

    Using useful recommendations from friends and families who also have their dentists can help to settle you and give you total assurance that the dentist you are going to see is great and will make sure you are fine. This assurance alone can help to settle your fear and give you the courage to go to the dentist.

  5. narialmy

    just relax it our body. its not hurt like that

  6. David Park

    Clients that fearful of coming in to see me I have come in and walk though what is going to happen so they know what to expect. We offer sedation techniques that some people chose all they have to do is take a pill and when they wake up their dental work is done. Others are fine with the walk through.

  7. Mark Crawford

    My dentist uses relaxation therapy with binaural (sp?) beats that actually works incredibly well! I have to admit, the first time that he wanted to try it, I was skeptical, but after many, many appointments (due to prolonged procrastination), I can honestly say that it works.
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  8. Bradley Bedell

    I believe that most kids are afraid of the dentist maybe because of the unfamiliar face since they’ve never met them yet or the tools that they’ve been using.

    Bradley Bedell
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  9. Fern Almond

    I dreaded going. Not sure why this is but probably due to less painful processes and more caring dentists.
    I also use calming processes like cd’s audio,
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  10. Jessica the Dental Helper

    Well… you can just do like a lot of people and not go but I don’t recommend that. lol

    Basically I just breathe and allow myself to think about other things. I try to get my dentist talking to the other person so I can listen to their conversation and take my mind off of things! This helps sometimes.

    When I went in and had 7 crowns put in I was there for almost 5 hours and thought I might just die but hey… 4 years later here I am. :-D

    Thanks!

  11. Max Goldman

    The major fear when people selecting dentist is possible pain. People wants to be sure that doctor will do it gently and without pain. [URL removed by moderator]

  12. Bend Dentist

    Dental fear can have many root causes and identifying those causes will help mitigate the effect of fear on your patients dental experience.

    often dental fear is about the patient loosing control. so if you can allow this type of patient to maintain some control…temperature of the room, music selection, lighting, chair position, etc you will find that this type of anxious patient will do much better in your chair.

    Spend a little time and find out WHY your patient is anxious. you may be able to really help.

  13. Sybarites

    As a practicing general dentist I treat patients of all ages including a few that are very fearful. I find two things very helpful: first, build trust go slow and second don’t hurt them. I believe most of the fears come from past experiences, especially in childhood. If I had my way dentists who are not good with children wouldn’t treat them.
    Today sedation dentistry using drugs is more popular and is
    pushed by certain camps in the profession.
    My team and I are conducting studies and surveys to improve our hotel and spa and a lot of activities in SYBARITES.

  14. Rajnish@Dental Tourism India

    Fear is an immediate response to a perceived threat. Until a spider comes along, my wife feels perfectly fine.
    After a spider encounter? Well, it’ll take her a minute or so to shake it off.
    Anxiety is different. That’s where you stress over things before they actually happen… You refuse to enter that old tool shed, because it might be full of spiders or other creepy crawlers… You refuse to go to the dentist because it might hurt.
    I’ve heard lots of people claim to have fear of the dentist. Yet for the last 25+ years of being a dentist, I’ve never once heard anyone say “Eek! A dentist!”
    I have seen some true dental phobics. My mother was one. She couldn’t even come visit me at the dental office. That level of phobia is less common nowadays.
    That being said, LOTS of people are anxious about going to the dentist. That’s one of our profession’s biggest challenges – helping people overcome dental anxiety.

  15. Morgan

    I never really thought that I might have a fear of a dentist. I personally have a fear of the pain that might appear during the process of having dental work performed. I guess if I had a previous experience with a dentist that was particularly unpleasant, then yes, I might actually fear him (or her)! The advances in the world of dentistry have made the pain part of the experience, well, less painful. Another problem I have is with the smell of burning tooth when the dentist grinds away at it. That actually might be worse than anything else.

  16. Barry

    I think most of the fear is the pain of the needle. I know I had a few when i was young and I do have to admit they were painful. Ironically I became used to these needles and pain since my craving for candy would never cease, and now if I have to see the dentist for even a cleaning I am fairly relaxed by the time i meet with him.

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  17. Bernard

    anxiety is one of the causes of decreased immunity. Maybe for your dental disease can be cured naturally I suggest you visit this website for information
    [URL removed by moderator]

  18. Shawn

    I’m going to the dentist tomorrow. I think everyone’s a little affraid. No one likes a big light shined over while people in white masks hover over you. It’s uncomfortable. Another fear is hearing there’s something wrong. No one likes the anticipation of waiting to hear that they have a cavity. Nerves and fear always turn out to be the worst thing, after it’s done I always wonder why i feared it to much. I’ve never had a procedure that hurt at all.

    I used to have this friend who’s wife is a dentist, she worked with children alot so she had to be patient with them. One of her favourite techniques to calm the down was to tell them about irrational fears she had of the dentist when she was young.

  19. buddy thomas

    ive found the best way is to book a sedative in advance, i have a phobia of needles so knocking me out for 5 mins does the trick :)
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  20. Jason Lewis

    Incredibly that fear is the reason why I’ve always got toothache. What I am afraid of is the needle that’s been injected to my skin. I almost collapse when I’ve visited my dentist for extraction before. Scared but I have to because I really like to eat.
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  21. Romeo

    We find that fear of a dentist is very common with our clients. I don’t know if this fear stems from a childhood memory or maybe a procedure gone wrong. By practicing sedation dentistry we have found that even people with deep-rooted fear of a dentist can have a relaxing, to say the least, time at our offices.
    Good luck to all.

  22. Dr Mark Holmes

    Despite being a doctor, being on the receiving still makes me nervous.
    I have tried anxiolytics [diazepam] with no benefits.
    The only thing I’ve found that helps is hypnotherapy.
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  23. Steve

    For some reason, my daughter (age 10 or earlier) actually *liked* going to the dentist. This changed after her first extraction. I personally have no issue with dentist visits despite several root canals, an implant, lots of fillings, but I certainly understand the fear factor for many.

    Try to think of the reasons why you need to deal with this health issue now, as opposed to putting it off or completely ignoring it.

    “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
    ~ Ambrose Redmoon

    [URL removed by moderator]

  24. Ralph Parkin DMD

    As a practicing general dentist I treat patients of all ages including a few that are very fearful. I find two things very helpful: first, build trust go slow and second don’t hurt them. I believe most of the fears come from past experiences, especially in childhood. If I had my way dentists who are not good with children wouldn’t treat them.
    Today sedation dentistry using drugs is more popular and is
    pushed by certain camps in the profession. Another which may be having a comeback is hypnosis. Could a fearful patient learn self hypnosis, probably. Delaying care is definitely an approach which has negative consequences. One way or another it is important to overcome certain deleterious fears. If you find yourself in the dental fear category you are not alone and you can overcome it.

  25. David

    Personally I go to a dentist that I have been with for a very long time. I know I can trust her and feel that she will take the very best care of me…that seems to put my tensions at ease.

    It’s also nice that she has great testimonials on her site which reaffirm how talented she really is.

    [URL removed by a moderator.]

  26. Sarah

    I believe this post would be of enormous benefit and interest to my readers. I hope you don’t mind if I include a link on my website back to yours?

    Thank you!

    [URL removed by a moderator.]

  27. Moritz Gleitman

    “Every time I go to the dentist, my palms sweat and my pulse pounds. Anti-anxiety drugs haven’t helped much”

    OMG Ann,

    Perhaps you’re going to the wrong dentist. I must admit though, I used to be somewhat like that, until a friend put me onto my current dentist.(Gosh, this sounds like a commercial)

    But seriously, this guy is the epitome of gentleness. I would always have an injection. At my first deep filling, this guy asked me if I wanted an injection – after the filling was done. And I swear, I didn’t feel a thing!?

    On topic now, there are actually brainwave entrainment mp3’s that you play yourself a few days before your treatment, that would do the trick nicely. It’s not mysticism it’s well-documented science. And cheap really.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that I’m really enjoying the blog. I’m going to have to bookmark it and check back later…

    [URL removed by a moderator.]

    • Steve

      Hi, I was reading these posts when I came across a comment that someone had used anti-anxiety drugs to try to overcome their dental fear. I recently came across an interesting youtube channel which had some intersting videos about the problems associated with these type of medication [URL removed by moderator]. It really opened my eyes to the potential dangers and encouraged me to look into natural ways of overcoming my own issues in my life.
      And going to the dentist is a lot better experience nowadays :-)

  28. Clay

    I usually engage in at least 30 minutes of meditation before each visit to the dentist. Visiting the dentist is one of my least favorite thing to do, yet it is a necessity if we plan to live healthy lives. Consider deep meditation, visualization and relaxation techniques the next time you have to engage in something that causes you anxiety. It has helped has helped me tremendously.

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  29. Jon 'The London Dentist Finder Guy' Darlington

    I actually had a severe fear of going to the dentist related to dental fear, panic attacks and generally not being able to escape half way through a procedure.

    I started taking a friend or a partner which meant that whatever state I got into they could be there to explain when I ran out the door.

    Eventually I got to the point where I was really very honest about what I felt to the dentist who was dealing with me and he was extremely understanding.

    I would say I had an acute fear of dentists (and other things) and the bottom line is that you have to face up to them and find a way of overcoming them.

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  30. Peter

    A lot of people fear going to the dentist, and with good reason. I am actually a cosmetic dentist in Atlanta, Ga. When my partner and I created our practice, our sole emphasis was to put patients at ease.

    Try finding a dentist that has more of a “spa feel.” I promise it will make a difference!

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  31. AD Smith

    To overcome any type of phobia one must first identify when the phobia started. Most dental phobias begin during childhood and remain throughout adulthood. Oftentimes it can be the fear of a needle, the sound of a drill or something as simple as the dentist face mask.

    After the phobia is properly identify the next step is to confront it. This is done by isolating the fear and seeing it for what it is, a small figment of the imagination. Once you realize that your phobia has no relevance in reality, that is it really does exist it reduces the power that you have given it.

    Try this; look at your fear from a different perspective(3rd person). See yourself in the dentist chair about to go through a root canal. Watch as the dentist go through all of the procedures from prep to the final step. Take notice of your feelings during the entire process as you watched. Starting out it will be scary but as the procedure come to an end you will realize how much more calmer you feel. This new perspective will allow you to see that your phobia has little merit because what you witness was not half as bad as what you expect it to be.

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  32. Nancy Howle

    I’ve had dental problems all my life. I have periodontal disease. It is under control now, thanks to an excellent periodontist and his staff. I have my teeth cleaned and evaluated there every four months.

    I have had numerous fillings and root canals, and most of my teeth have crowns. I have a fear of needles. Therefore, all were done without my being numbed. I would promise the dentist I would not move, and they agreed to not use a numbing agent.

    Many years ago, I came to terms with the fact that I would always need continuous dental care. Being afraid of needles, I chose a photo that is very important to me. That’s the image I concentrate on while in the dental chair. Also, I have two tissues folded in my right hand. I imagine any pain goes from my mouth, down my arm, into my hand, and is collected in the tissues. At the end of the dental visit, I throw the tissues away, and the pain goes with them. To me, it’s simply mind over matter.

    Actually, the pain doesn’t really last that long. My method has worked for me for many, many years.

  33. Thomas

    I actually talked about this problem on my blog (http://www.dentistinbristolct.com) and some tips to consider when picking a dentist.

    First off you want to feel comfortable. You should look at what kind of dentist your are looking for either pediatric or other. You should also see if they offer nitrous oxide during their procedures. This is a huge one for me as I don’t want to feel anything when they are dealing with my teeth.

    And other important factors to consider, do you want a male or female dentist, young or old, etc etc. I find it a lot easier to deal with somebody that’s older and more experienced, it makes me feel more relaxed. And once I found this dentist and office that satisfies most of these needs it’s a lot more easier to go in there for the routine cleanings, etc. So I’d start off by asking yourself what you want from your dentist and call around and pick one that’s right for you.

  34. Bryan

    I have had a LOT of issues with dentists in the past, all totally unfounded fears of course! In fact, I actually feel a little stupid afterwards for dreading it so much.

    I’ve actually found that using some NLP techniques really useful. I learned some from Paul McKenna the popular British hypnotherapist/NLP guru – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c3W222dCEc&feature=fvw

    I also used this NLP technique at home – basically you make mental images of things you fear and then replace them with how you want to feel – it really works! (www.manifestation.com/neurotoys/swish.php3)

    I’ve recently found out that Mercury fillings might not be too safe (http://www.energiseforlife.com/wordpress/2008/08/13/the-danger-of-mercury-fillings/) so I am bracing myself for many future visits to have them all taken out!

    Try the NLP tactics, they do definitely help

    Bryan