Fear and Anxiety… Dental Fear-Anxiety I

by Dr. Joe :) · 67 comments

Warning: How Fear And Anxiety Eat You Alive

My wife doesn’t like spiders in the house. When she gets surprised by one, she’ll express that “Eek! A spider!” response. She’s terribly afraid of spiders.

Toronto Dentist Blog: Fear of dentists and dental anxiety.

That’s fear.

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.

Look beneath the anxiety to find the true fear.

Beneath that anxiety there’s often a fear factor. Fear of pain is a big one. Fear of needles. Fear of confined spaces. Fear of losing control. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of the unknown. All that gets wrapped up in so-called fear of the dentist. We’re an easy target to blame.

Let me put it another way. If you were terrified of heights and were taken to the top of a tall building with big glass windows, you would be afraid to look out those big windows. You’re not afraid of big windows or looking out of them. You’re afraid of heights. The windows are the conduit of your true fear, not the source.

That’s how it is with dentists. Look beneath the anxiety to find the true fear.

For clarity, I’ll outline some differences between fear and anxiety.

Here's a sweet little post-doodle for posting.The Fear Factor

Fear and anxiety are often confused. Easy to do because they feel similar and one typically begets the other. Fear leads to anxiety, and anxiety leads to fear.

Confused? Brian Clark of Copyblogger explains the difference between fear and anxiety in his article Is F.E.A.R. Holding You Back?

Watch this video of a Bill Cosby comedy skit about the horrors of visiting the dentist… =>

At the time, people found that skit incredibly funny. Back in those days, fear of the dentist was widespread and strong emotions can be a shortcut to your funny-bone.

Fear is a direct response to a threatening situation. For example, unexpectedly coming face to face with a spider. If that’s a particular focus for your fear, you’ll get a strong reaction.

You’ll break out in a sweat and your heart will almost be jumping out of your chest.

Imagine for a moment walking down a dark street late at night. You’re tired and look forward to sleeping, when suddenly some street punk jumps out and points a gun to your head demanding money. You would feel startled and a rush of adrenaline would put you into a hyper-alert state.

Unless you have nerves of steel, you’ll experience a full-blown fight-or-flight response. You’ll break out in a sweat and your heart will almost be jumping out of your chest.

That’s fear.

Dental phobia - fear and anxiety at the dentist

Phobia is an intense persistent fear of something. A bad experience in childhood can lay the foundation for a phobia.  Once you develop a phobia, further exposure to it is likely to elicit an immediate fear response.

Top 10 Fears

  1. Snakes 51%
  2. Public Speaking 40%
  3. Heights 36%
  4. Confined Spaces 34%
  5. Spiders 27%
  6. Needles and Injections 21%
  7. Mice 20%
  8. Flying on a plane 18%
  9. (Tie) Dogs, Crowds, Thunder 11%
  10. Going to a Doctor 9%

That poll from Gallup was conducted on American adults.

Points of interest: Fear of the dark might be common for children but represented only 5% of adults. There were distinct gender differences, especially for snakes, spiders and mice. Interestingly, females scored higher for each of the Top 10 Fears except for one… Visiting the doctor.

Sometimes fear can be your best friend. It can save your life. Your adrenaline-based response is an ancient survival mechanism designed to help you take immediate action in dangerous situations. Like dodging from a charging saber-tooth tiger. Though I haven’t seen many of those around lately.

With that gun to your head, you’ll experience a full-blown fear response. It’s a quick and dirty system – fast but not precise. And it’s that lack of precision that makes it so messy.

It’s like letting the weeds take over the garden.

How do I OVERCOME my fear and anxiety?” Just asking that question is a big step in the right direction. Many people would ask the wrong question – “How can I AVOID my fear and anxiety?”

Avoidance has consequences. Some problems tend to progress if left unchecked. That definitely applies to teeth. Also, anxiety tends to grow if avoidance becomes your primary strategy. Going to a dentist will be an even bigger barrier to overcome.

It’s like letting the weeds take over the garden.

Here's a sweet little post-doodle for posting.Anxiety: The Real Enemy

Now, let’s say you recovered from that encounter with the street punk, but ever since that incident, you’ve had a hard time walking down any dark streets. Every time you try, you feel a sense of dread that something bad will happen. And with time, that apprehension has been gradually getting worse.

That’s anxiety.

Anxiety is that vague, unpleasant apprehension that something bad will happen. An anticipation of negative outcomes, even with little evidence to support that.

Anxiety can stem from a traumatic experience. Seeing a spider isn’t exactly traumatic, but having a gun to your head certainly would be.

Anxiety can also be the emotional fallout from excessive worrying and an imagination caught in a negative spin.

Guess what? Whether the threat is real or imaginary, your physical body can’t tell the difference. Either way your body is put on high-alert and your resources are burned up fast. Any imagined threat can leave you feeling just as drained and exhausted as a genuine one.

That’s why anxiety is your real enemy. It will consume you like an energy vampire and make your days miserable.

What’s all that have to do with going to the dentist? Stay tuned for Part II of Dental Fear.

Stay healthy and keep smiling!

Signature for a Toronto Cosmetic Dentist.

Dr. Joe 🙂


Dr. Joe Bulger

About the Author: is a West Toronto dentist. He’s also the owner-founder of Royal York Dental – a respected dental clinic serving Etobicoke since 1950.

If you would like to learn more about your dental options, fill out our contact form or CALL 416 231-0550 for a FREE & Easy No-Obligation First Visit.


Leave a Comment

{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

1 docDMD June 30, 2010 at 3:07 pm

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Fear and anxiety a topic that you could discuss for days. For those that have not been to the dentist in a long time due to fear and anxiety issues let me tell you sometime, THE TIMES HAVE CHANGED 🙂 go and see your dentist and I think you will be really surprised how technology, procedures and medications have made going to the dentist different. Think of it as dental evolution, like the Ford model T to the newest Mustang. 🙂

2 physical therapist July 14, 2010 at 9:54 pm

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Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

3 Watch SaltMovie Online Free July 20, 2010 at 7:30 am

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I really like the fresh perspective you did on the issue. Really was not expecting that when I started off studying. Your concepts were easy to understand that I wondered why I never looked at it before. Glad to know that there’s an individual out there that definitely understands what he’s discussing. Great job.

4 Dave@User Reviews Family Ski And Snowboard Wii August 30, 2010 at 11:18 pm

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hello
I am embarrassed about my teeth but I am a dental hygienist in the making. How do I overcome this fear?

5 Dr. Joe :) August 31, 2010 at 12:13 pm

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Dave, your fear will help you empathize with everyone else who goes through the same thing. Also, everybody loves an overcoming-adversity story. Share your story with patients and they will definitely relate and connect.

Welcome to the profession and good luck with studies.

Joe 😀

6 physical therapy los angeles October 29, 2010 at 2:24 pm

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I only fear the dentist when I know i have a bad cavity. I am super anal about my teeth cleaning though. I make sure it’s brush and floss right before I sleep.

Leslie

7 physical therapy los angeles November 1, 2010 at 8:22 pm

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I have so many of the top fears listed…almost every one!! That’s scary in and of itself! lol

-Jaimee

8 heather@how to be free of dental anxiety December 19, 2010 at 9:30 pm

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Enjoyed your witty post, thanks. I really feel for all the lovely Dentists out there who end up with an anxious patient whose anxiety has come about from poor treatment from a previous dentist who showed no empathy or understanding.It’s such a shame for the patients who endure the anxiety.

Your analogy was well done with windows and looking out of them!

Cheers
Heather

9 Dentists in Mississauga February 2, 2011 at 12:09 pm

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The imagine of a real Dentist its for many of us, lit bit scary. The resonance its very important, when you mention his name. Also lets consider some factors that are very important like the results, which also may be a very considerent factor.

10 sheila April 13, 2011 at 5:45 pm

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I always feel like Pat benater in “get nervous” video when i see the dentist.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXatoCG13tw

I was nervous about the dentist ever until my lifelong dentist retired and has no luck going to jerks who lied about my teeth, one dentist told me i need all my wisdom teeth pulled out when i dont even have any wisdom teeth.. First time i had a root canal and crown, it didnt hurt but 2 years later i got an absecc and found out the root canal was poorly done and so was the crown, had to have everything redone.. Everything has cost me about $5, 000 for one tooth .. I have not had any luck finding a good dentist.. The young guys in their 30s are the worst btw.

11 Dr. Joe :) April 13, 2011 at 7:50 pm

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Wow Sheila, I never saw that Pat Benatar video. I like the part at the end where she becomes one of “them”

Hope you find that shining white dental hero to take care of you.

12 starkiller July 13, 2011 at 10:17 pm

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i am still a dental phobic

13 jane@dentists in alpharetta July 17, 2011 at 10:51 pm

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interesting that women scored higher for being fearful of the doctor. i guess the one thing to be afraid of is finding out bad news which could mean financial consequences or worse, health consequences. i am not so fearful as i just don’t feel like going! its such a hassle, but it is important…

14 Sarah Walsh @ Dental Hygiene Programs August 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm

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My biggest fear when it came to the dentist was that I was going to be hurt. It hurt when someone was scraping at my teeth with instruments or poking at my gums.

15 Mark from Dental Hygienist Information August 8, 2011 at 6:03 pm

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When I go to the dentist I always think that they are going to find a lot of problems with my teeth which equals expensive treatment.

16 Aubrey from http://www.retrosweets.net/ September 6, 2011 at 6:00 am

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As a kid i always wanted to eat sweets that resulted to often dental problems. But lucky me, I’ve never had a fear of going to a dentist. And still, sweets are my favorites…

17 Margaret@Anxiety Sydney September 11, 2011 at 9:18 pm

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I think if there were no such things as dentist tools which made that infamous high pitched drilling sound, there wouldnt be such a thing as dentist anxiety, what do you guys think?

18 HarryIsFat November 2, 2011 at 1:33 pm

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I kind of think you’re wrong there. People are also scared of the needles the dentists use for injections too.

19 Shine@Web Designer Sydney October 18, 2011 at 3:13 am

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I’ve always been afraid to go to the dentist. For me it’s more of anticipation of the pain that will come. Having been there before, I already knew what will happen. So the more I think about it on my next visit, the more fearful I get.

20 HarryIsFat November 2, 2011 at 1:38 pm

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I never used to be scared of the dentist but I had a check-up last week and they said that I have to either have a root canal (which the dentist said could muck up) or have an extraction! It’s a whole month away yet I’m TERRIFIED. Even worse, they’re gonna use needles and I HATE NEEDLES!!!!!!!!!!

21 John@Steel Buildings November 3, 2011 at 9:07 am

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When our kids were young, we tried to make dental visits a pleasant experience. We didn’t really make a big deal out of it. We also never mention any bad experiences we had with dentists. We tried to be very calm and casual about it. I am so thankful that all our 5 kids are not fearful of dentists.

22 andy@net zero energy building November 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm

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I don’t think that my spouse has gone to the dentist since she was a child. I don’t know if she had a bad experience as a child, but there is zero chance she will go. Trying to get her there is a waste of energy. She would rather deal with pain than go. Sad.

23 Jen @ Backup Camera November 4, 2011 at 8:05 pm

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I have always liked going to the dentist and I am not sure why, my little brother used to scream and cry but I never had a real problem with it. Maybe because my dentist was so nice and made me feel ok.

24 Sam @ Air Purifiers November 7, 2011 at 1:45 pm

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Wow snakes and public speaking are the top two fears people have?? I like snakes…and I don’t mind public speaking. Don’t do spiders though, yuck!

25 Morphealth December 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm

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story about a spider I also like what your wife had experienced.

26 Heather Smith @Dental Website December 23, 2011 at 1:58 am

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“Look beneath the anxiety to find the true fear.”
— Haha! maybe my dentist has heavy hands, that’s why when she injected me it felt like my bones have also been injected! I used to scream a lot when i was a child! It just made me laugh.

27 Heather Smith @Dental Website Design December 26, 2011 at 8:08 pm

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Fear exist the day we are born. Things get complicated when fear is there. But all of us didnt know that we can conquer fear by praying. I declare that nothing beats fear but prayer. Thanks for posting this.

28 Rachel@ Psychotherapist Oxford January 8, 2012 at 5:07 pm

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Personally I have an amazing dentist and whether or not the procedure hurts the dentist himself made me feel relaxed. I believe having a regular dentist you know and trust helps in this area.

29 Get Help for Depression January 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm

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I used to be terrified of the dentist but for some reason the fear went away – it was the needles I was the most scared of and these days things seem to have changed and I don’t even feel the needles – I don’t know how they do that. Maybe my current dentist is just very good at doing injections.

30 Nathan Woodbury from Website Design January 20, 2012 at 8:27 pm

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I have to admit that I’m proud of my 6 year old daughter. She had to have 2 teeth pulled and she didn’t even flinch or have any issues. Our dentist was impressed and surprised.

31 mike@dating friends January 21, 2012 at 11:41 am

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people need fear to make the adrenalin flow and that’s the basic insting

32 how much does a root canal cost January 24, 2012 at 7:23 am

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Most people will be afraid going to the dentist. It is important for us to get the right information, whether the pain is fact, or just a fake, just for scaring us.

33 kay@electricianEltham January 28, 2012 at 3:16 pm

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I found your article of great interest to me. As a sufferer of Bi-Polar I am aware of the problems that anxiety causes. I could relate to many of the things in the article but unfortunately for me it’s a cross I have to bear. What I would like to say is that I have been lucky enough to find the most patient, kind and understanding dentist that always gets me through my 6 monthly visit. Luckily I have had no problems with my teeth and count that as a blessing. It’s a shame that not all dentists are like mine because I have come across a few that aren’t and that didn’t make matters better for me because as well as the anxiety before I got there, I used to suffer terrible guilt when I left. So thank you Mr. Morrison, (my dentist), you are a gem.

34 Nicole@Field Service February 3, 2012 at 9:13 am

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I think it is best to bring the children to the dentist when they are still young. The dentist will just check their teeth and since there are still no problem with their teeth, they will have a pleasant time on the dental chair. It is good also for them to be familiar with the dentist. If they know and trust the dentist, when it’s time for the “real” dental visit happens, they are already comfortable with the dentist.

35 Vin@Bipolar II February 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm

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I never had dental anxiety when I was younger. It wasn’t until I progressed in age until I started to experience fear before going to the dentist. The sound of the drill drives me crazy, and I always think I’ll feel pain despite the numbing medication.

36 maksi@botanical white February 17, 2012 at 7:31 pm

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teeth are so important that they deserve our attention …

37 mak@xtremeno February 18, 2012 at 11:22 pm

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there is a reason why many people inclinding me fear dentiste … I mean so much pain many times ….

38 Feye@Kids Dentist February 20, 2012 at 2:18 am

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Parents should practice to visit their dentist regularly along with their kids, so that they won’t build fear about it. People can’t deny that they have their own anxiety, but they need to overcome it with themselves or with a help of a professional.

39 Nathan@Work from Home March 1, 2012 at 7:57 am

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A lot of people have fear or anxiety about the idea of being their own boss. Quitting their job means losing that nice warm security blanket, but coming from someone who has been self employed for over 2 years now, it is well worth it.

40 adam @ Coventry Website Design March 5, 2012 at 7:01 am

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I used to hate going to the dentist until I met my current girlfriend, she is a dental nurse and her sister is a dentist so I just go to them now when I need something doing. They keep me relaxed and I trust them, I’ve had some very bad experiences at dentists previously but hopefully I have overcame this phobia now.

41 Velma @ Root Canal Salt Lake City March 18, 2012 at 9:05 am

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When I was a kid I totally fear dentists. The reason is because of the injection. I think that the major reason why kids would fear dentists.

42 Michael Dylphe@Window Tinting March 26, 2012 at 12:00 pm

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I don’t like to see dentist either, I had bad experience with them 🙁

43 Albert Leonardo March 31, 2012 at 9:52 pm

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I had been fear to go to see the dentist for my molar teeth check up (which need surgical operation to remove), until I was finally “forced” by my family to make an appointment with him one year later. The dentist told me that if only I had come to him one year earlier, my other molar teeth would not have been affected. Because of my fear and postpone, I had TWO molar teeth in problem.

44 Depression Treatment Method April 2, 2012 at 9:26 pm

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I haven’t fears from snakes or any animals, but i have the fear of public speaking .. how can i overcome this guys ?

45 Rhoda@us silver coins April 15, 2012 at 2:57 pm

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46 Dentistry Lawrenceville GA April 23, 2012 at 3:30 pm

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I think it’s better to overcome your fear and go to dentist than suffer from pain.

47 Alex Simring April 26, 2012 at 9:36 am

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I absolutely love the Bill Crosby video…it brings back so many wonderful past trips to the dentist! Now I’ve got to convince my little one that a trip to the dentist is not so bad!

48 Lose Your Man Boobs May 10, 2012 at 12:14 am

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I’d have to say that I know first-hand about the anxiety of going to a dentist. I currently have a broken tooth and a few cavities, but I’m scared that I will be ridiculed and/or laughed at by the dentist if I were to go to one. I know that’s stupid; my mouth cannot be the worse one the dentist has seen, but the fear is still there. I’m also scared that there will be intense pain, even though I’ve had dental procedures in the past and know the pain was minimal.

49 martin @ dinning table sets May 23, 2012 at 7:27 am

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Usually the best way to beat fear of doing something is to go ahead and just do it many time over until the fear has completely gone. This is much easier said than done. therefore it is a good idea to set a setting that is favourable to you achieving what it is you need to achieve.

50 Jeff@Real Estate in Newcastle June 3, 2012 at 10:44 am

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My dentist uses the phrase ‘we cater for cowards’ in their advertising, and it definitely found me as a customer haha.

51 Jim June 12, 2012 at 8:23 pm

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My dental phobia has eased a good bit in recent years; mainly as a result of not avoiding regular check ups and cleanings; thus minimizing the stress of each visit.

I think my fear of pain\dentists goes back to a visit I made when I was about eight years old. I suggested to my dentist that I really didn’t like the lingering facial numbness caused by the shots; and that maybe he could do the work without giving me one.

Now; what kind of dentist is going to take advice from an eight year old kid about how to practice his art; especially something so fundamental to the procedure as deadening the nerves before working on the teeth?

Apparently, my dentist was that type of dentist.

Scarred (and scared) me for a long, long time.

I’ve enjoyed your posts; I’ll be back for more.

52 Brent @ Dentourist June 21, 2012 at 4:26 pm

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Honestly, I think the fear of dentists is overrated. I go to the dentist regularly and that’s why I have great teeth (I receive a great deal of compliments). In fact, I look forward to the dentist! Thanks to them, I have nice, white teeth 🙂

Psychologists say one of the first characteristics a person notices when meeting others is teeth and hair!

So please visit the dentist as much as possible!

53 Jason @ Central American News June 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm

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I found a great way to ease anxiety and (almost) eliminate fear. There are several NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) techniques which lessen the the effects of anxiety, fears, and phobias. Some of these techniques can “cure” a person of dentists in just five minutes! Pretty amazing.

54 John@Fayetteville dentist August 14, 2012 at 3:29 am

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I had a co-worker who has a spider-phobia. Once she saw a spider, even very small spider, she run away with the very loud scream…

55 Dr. J @ Livingston Dental August 31, 2012 at 7:06 pm

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My wife is deathly afraid of the dentist. I found it strange at first, but we have to make sure our dentist office offers full sedation dentistry to get any work done on her. She suffers from high anxiety and anything related to tools working on her is a trigger.

56 Dr. Joe :) September 1, 2012 at 7:22 am

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Has your empathy for your wife’s situation helped you to relate to others? In my case it was my mother – deathly afraid of dental offices. Couldn’t even step into my office just for a social visit. She required heavy sedation to have any dental work done. Funny that two of her sons became dentists.

57 Dentist@Raritan Dentist November 4, 2012 at 12:02 am

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Do you think people dont like going to the dentist because of reason #6 (needles and injections) or #10 (visiting the doctor)?

58 Mary Grace Viado November 29, 2012 at 3:26 am

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Now, I can clearly differentiate fear from anxiety. I think, it’s more of dental anxiety than fear. The continuous thought of acquiring pain from needles or just the plain thought of pain left people to having “dental fear”. Great post, great delivery! I love the tone and I think I’ll be an avid reader from this day forward.

59 Eliminate Dental Anxiety December 6, 2012 at 9:30 am

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The answer to your dental anxiety: Conscious Sedation Dentistry is dentistry without any discomfort or fear!

60 Out of This World Dentistry April 11, 2013 at 1:34 pm

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I find it amazing how people in third world countries have no fear factor when it comes to medical pain. They are so tolerant to pain that, even though they have rotten teeth, they still have big smiles on their faces all the time. I don’t think we have anything to fear when going to the dentist. We are in good hands.

61 Rose April 29, 2013 at 8:54 pm

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I am a full grown adult that had traumatic dental experiences as a child.
I over came the fear of pain inflicted by the dentist but then had to see a periodontist due to receding gums and pockets in the gums. I then had to have deep cleanings every 6 months and was always made to feel like my teeth were going to fall out before the next cleaning. There were always comments about how much my gums bled while getting a cleaning which I thought was ironic due to the fact that a razor sharp instrument was scratching away under the gum line. Just when I was getting used to the dentist and the hygenist a very good friend of the family passed away from cancer of the jaw and my son’s co-worker had 1/2 of his tongue removed. Not only did that throw me into a tail spin but the fact that whenever anyone from the medical profession approaches you it is to look for cancer, first and foremost. The thought of a dentist looking with bright lights into my mouth and finding cancer is my biggest fear. Look and ye shall find. The pain of a procedure I can take….its the diagnosis I fear and have no faith in the treatment either! Its the over advertisement of the Canadian Cancer Society that has made me so fearful of doctors and dentists that the very thing they shove down your throats is the reason I stay away!!!!!!!

62 Dr. Joe :) April 29, 2013 at 9:23 pm

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Powerfully said Rose. You’re absolutely valid in feeling the way you do. This fault-finding approach that health care practitioners take is a huge turnoff for many people. Where’s the message of hope for a healthy future? Dental care should be about encouraging you to stay on a healthy path… not punishment for dental problems as if you had been a “bad” person for letting that happen.

Don’t give up on finding someone who is worthy and able to serve as a health partner and trusted adviser.

63 Benny November 7, 2013 at 7:54 pm

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Good post. I’m dealing with a few of these issues as well..

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65 Sarah September 8, 2016 at 10:30 am

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So I will admit I haven’t been to the dentist for at least 6 years. Just the thought of having to go sends me into a panic attack and I will either start hyperventilating or I will start crying.

Unfortunately I have several cavities (including a large one on one of my upper back teeth). And even though it hurts I’m just too scared to even phone the dentist to make an appointment

66 veyom December 29, 2016 at 12:42 am

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67 blake January 27, 2017 at 8:55 am

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hi

my biggest fear of the dentist involves several things. first and the biggest of them al is pain. im terrified of beingin pain from haveing the dentist repair my teeth.

i dont have the best looking teeth because i find it incredibly difficultnot to eat lots of stuff i shouldnt like suger rich foods and cakes.

the other biggest fear i have is being in the chair and haveing the dentist start pokeing around in my mouth and not knowing what hes doing.

simply sitting in the chair makes me grip the arm rest like im being sucked into a black hole, i sweat like a garden hose and im trying to pull my head away from the dentist.

the worst part is i really need to go tothe dentist to get my teeth sorted and i have one of them pulled out, which terrifies me because of how much i think its going to hurt.

i dont understand why the dentist cant just put you to sleep or knock you out but whacking you in the face so your unconsious then it wont hurt at all.

what can i do to help alleviate these anxities ? is there anything i can do ?

blake

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