What is Dental Phobia? An Interview with a Dentist

As it is Dental Phobia Awareness Week, we had a chat to dentist Mike Gow to find out a little bit more about what dental phobia is and what can be done about it!

How big an issue is dental phobia?

It is a bigger issue than most people realise, mainly because a lot of people find it very difficult to talk about. Many people may not have even discussed their fear among family and friends. Various studies estimate that in the UK, around one third of people have moderate to extreme fear of going to the dentist. Dental fear is more prevalent in women than in men, but women are more likely to discuss their fear than men. People wonder whether dental phobia is something that older people struggle with because of how dentistry used to be and if younger people find it easier because of new technologies. However, the statistics do show that there is an increase in the number of young people who fear the dentist so dental phobia is definitely an issue ongoing in the future.

What are the common anxieties and fears that people have when visiting the dentist?

These can be very widespread. There are some common fears such as fear of injection, fear of feeling pain or fearing having to get a tooth removed. Other people may have a generalised fear of the dentist and fear the whole experience, the sounds the smells, or even sitting in the chair. One of the most common things I’ve come across in my career is the aspect of embarrassment. It’s less talked about, and while I was studying dentistry it wasn’t really mentioned.

It’s common that people will feel embarrassed about their anxiety and fears but also embarrassed about how their teeth are. As a dentist, we are taught to encourage good dental hygiene but to tell people who know that they have bad dental habits, can almost be demotivating and can put people off coming back. Dentists don’t look at teeth in the way that patients do, they look at the foundations, what can be built on and how we could solve problems, rather than judging and criticising.

What options do patients have for coping with their fear and anxiety?

There are many techniques out there ranging from general anaesthetic but this is often reserved for severe cases and must take place in a hospital. Within a dental practice, sedation is an option. With sedation, the patient is still awake but tends not to remember much of what happens, and is very relaxed for the duration of the treatment. There are many drugs that can help, but there are also many behavioural treatments that include, cognitive behavioural therapy, psychology or dental hypnosis.

Do you think finding the right dentist is crucial for a patient to combat anxiety?

Yes. If you can find a dentist who is happy or who wants to take on phobic patients then that’s a good start. It shows that they care and want to help. The Defacto initiative is a great way for people to find a dentist who is happy to treat a phobic patient. I consider my first appointment with new patients as a sort of job interview and I’m trying to get the job. Rather than me assessing the patient, I want them to assess if they want me to do the work for them. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, you are well within your rights to say no to a dentist and look around until you find the right one for you. This is an interesting video that explains the relationship between the patient and the dentist or hygienist.

Who are Defacto Dentists?

Do you find yourself searching: “dentist near me” or “dentist in my area?” Perhaps you’re even looking for a dentist who can help with your anxiety. Then we have a solution for you. We are DefactoDentists.com and we can solve your dental search. Simply visit our website, type in your location and we’ll find the perfect dentist in your area! You can even visit the site to keep up to date with health news through our blogs! If you’re a dentist, get your practice listed today!

Author: Leigh McLintock

1 Comment

  1. Mw on 2 February 2024 at 11:14 pm

    I have a perhaps unique perspective on this subject, as a child I was routinely booked for a ga in the surgery before the practice was banned. Now I have overcame my phobia, and work as a nurse and tco in one of the leading referral centres in the country. I find that when a phobic patient makes an initial approach to my clinic, my personal experience and shared fears brings that patient to the consultation appointment, and the clinician i match that patient to make massive differences to their journey to treatment. Sedation has a place to get people stable before overcoming the fear. I would say overall, having staff with the shared experience is key to helping patients overcome.

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