Dental Phobia (Odontophobia)

dentist tools

What is it?

Many adults are terrified of visiting the dentist. Dental anxiety ranges from mild uneasiness (experienced by many of us), to acute anxiety/panic attacks. When a person will not go at all to the dentist despite needing treatment, they can be said to be suffering from dental phobia.

The particular fears of visiting the dentist vary from person to person. Some people have their fear triggered by the sound of the drill, or the thought of needles in sensitive areas of their mouth. For some it is the loss of control which is most feared, for others it is the fear of pain.

Dental phobias generally develop from childhood, where a traumatic experience may have left us with feelings of anxiety about going to the dentist. However, an interesting fact is that if the first time you encounter something you have a positive experience, regardless of whether it goes on to be traumatic, we develop an ‘immunity’ to developing a phobia. This is called ‘latent inhibition’ and it is the reason that young children now get to go to the dentist for a couple of times initially, get a sticker and have no treatment other that just a quick look with the mirror.

Some suggestions for helping you manage a dental phobia include:

  • Find a sympathetic dentist and gain access to the vast array of different types of sedation (including happy gas, tablets, etc)
  • Consult with a CBT therapist and put together a hierarchy to help you overcome your fear. This may begin by sitting and thinking about an appointment with your therapist, then perhaps driving past your dentist, or sitting in the waiting room (without an appointment), until you feel completely comfortable about going for that appointment.

Dental phobia fact sheet 

DIY self diagnosis

If you can answer ‘yes’ to most of the following questions then you may be suffering with a dental phobia:

  • Have you avoided dental and/or oral medical treatment because of your fear?
  • Have you carried on far longer with pain in your tooth or an infection because of your fear of attending the dentist?
  • Do you have an overwhelming fear when you think about attending an appointment at the dentist?
  • If you hear a dental drill sound, does this cause you a very high level of anxiety?
  • Have you had this fear for some time, following a difficult experience in childhood with the dentist?

How we can help

Anxiety UK has a specialist email support service run by a qualified dentist with many years experience treating people with dental phobia. Sean is very empathic towards those who suffer with dental anxiety and can give practical advice on e.g. obtaining sedation, dental procedures and dentists who specialise in anxious patients. You will need to be a member of Anxiety UK to access this service. We can also support you in accessing a CBT therapist, who can help you develop your own fear ladder, to encounter and overcome your phobia.

Anxiety UK is a user-led charity with more than forty years experience in supporting those living with anxiety. By becoming a member of Anxiety UK, you will also have access to a range of benefits, including:

  • Access to reduced cost therapy within two weeks of submitting your therapy request
  • Free access to Headspace, worth £95
  • Access to our infoline, email, text and live chat services (available Monday-Friday, 9:30 am – 5:30 pm) staffed by volunteers with personal experience of anxiety
  • Receipt of four issues of Anxious Times, our quarterly members’ magazine
  • Access to the members only section of our website, featuring regular support surgeries facilitated by anxiety experts
  • Access to specialist helplines, including the psychiatric pharmacy helpline and the dental specialist email support service run by a qualified dentist with many years experience treating people with dental phobia

And many, many other benefits that will help you manage your anxiety long term. To become a member of Anxiety UK click here or ring 08444 775 774 today.

Recommended resources

Anxiety UK has a range of resources that can support individuals with specific phobias, please click here to find something that may be of use to you.

For information about dental procedures, oral hygiene etc., we recommend the Dental Helpline provided by the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF) on 0845 063 1188 (local rate call – available Monday – Friday from 9-5pm).