The Vicious Cycle of Dental Fear – & How to Break Out of It

by | Apr 29, 2021 | Dentistry


Sure, we all know the cliche that nobody likes going to the dentist – well, except this guy – but that shouldn’t be confused with actual dental fear or anxiety. Those can keep a person from getting even the preventive care that could lower their risk of needing more intensive treatment in the future. This becomes, in the words of one paper on the subject, “a vicious cycle,”

whereby people with high dental fear are more likely to delay treatment, leading to more extensive dental problems and symptomatic visiting patterns which feed back into the maintenance or exacerbation of existing dental fear.

While fear of COVID has kept some people from the dentist – despite the risks being low and the consequences of skipped visits being high – those with dental fear don’t need an extra excuse to skip essential care. The thought of particular procedures or sounds or smells, or just not being in control, is enough.

And it’s a problem for more than a few people, as a new review of the literature reminds.

fearful woman at dentistSifting through a few thousand articles on the matter, the authors narrowed their focus to 31 studies that met their criteria. Altogether, the studies involved over 72,000 adults. After crunching the numbers, the authors estimated that, globally, 15.3% of the population has measurable dental fear or anxiety.

Interestingly, the numbers were higher for women than for men. While the case rate for men was just over 10%, it was nearly 20% for women. Women were also a bit more likely to have severe dental fear or anxiety.

While all but three of the studies were found to be at high risk of bias, the estimates are still in the same ballpark as others (though consumer surveys like this one put the number much, much higher.)

Regardless, dental fear is not without its consequences. Research consistently shows that those with dental phobia tend to have worse oral hygiene and a worse health-related quality of life. One recent study found that those with severe dental anxiety were quite likely to have dental pain and for that pain to be more intense, which put a drag on their quality of life, interfering with daily activities.

And that’s only considering the immediate dental impacts, not the blows to systemic health that can come from poor oral health.

If dental fear or anxiety is keeping you from getting the care you need and deserve, know you’ve got options for making dental appointments more doable for you. Here in our office, for instance, we offer both nitrous oxide and IV sedation, as well as a drug-free solution called Brain Tap, which uses a Bluetooth headset to deliver unique frequencies of light and sound to help you enter a relaxing meditative state from which you awaken rejuvenated and energized.

Herbal medicines such as valerian root also offer a drug-free alternative to help take the edge off, though always discuss the use of such medicines with your dentist before treatment, to make sure they won’t interfere with your procedures. Other favorite drug-free options include controlled (yogic) breathing or simply distracting yourself with your favorite music delivered through earphones or buds. In cases of very high or severe anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy may be of special help in conquering the fear that keeps you from getting dental care.

Above all, talk with us – or your own dentist, if you’re outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington area – about any worries you have about getting needed care. The more we know, the more we can do to help make each and every experience here in our office a positive one.

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This blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for individual health, fitness or medical advice.

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