Fear of Going to the Dentist aka Dentophobia

Odontophobia, or the fear of the dentist, is a fairly common phobia among all age groups.Sometimes related to medical phobia or fear of doctors, and trypanophobia, or fear of needles. Dental phobia can be mild or severe, and can eventually lead to serious health problems.

While many of us hate going to the dentist and feel a certain level of anxiety during our six-monthly appointments, that doesn't always equal clinical phobia. In order for a mental health professional to diagnose your fear as a phobia, the fear you feel must be excessive, persistent, life-limiting, long-lasting, and disproportionate to the danger posed by the object of your fear.

You may be a little anxious during the appointment and feel excited at the end, but if you are able to handle it without severe anxiety or avoid it altogether, you are unlikely to have a clinical phobia. However, if your symptoms meet the criteria, it’s important to remember that you are not alone, and many people are able to successfully overcome their fears.


Dental phobia can be divided into many elements. Most people with this phobia are afraid of more than one element, while people with severe dental phobia may be afraid of all or most elements at the same time:

  • dentisit: Like doctors, IRS auditors, and other feared professions, “dentists” are often and irrationally mischaracterized as being callous and, at worst, sadistic. It's understandable – when you're vulnerable, they often hover over you with sharp instruments. You may be more likely to develop this phobia if you have had a bad personal experience with a dentist.
  • pain: Until recently, completely pain-free dental treatment was difficult or impossible. Even today, some surgeries may cause mild pain. Many people are extremely sensitive to oral pain and worry that the pain will be unbearable.
  • Numbness or nausea: Some people, especially those who experience choking or difficulty breathing, fear numbness in their mouths. You may worry that you can't breathe or swallow.
  • Sounds and smells: Many people, especially those who have had a bad dental experience, are afraid of the sounds and smells of the dental office, especially the sound of the drill.
  • Needle: If you have a needle phobia, you may be extremely afraid of the injections your dentist uses to numb your mouth.


Whether due to genetics or behavior, dental health varies from person to person. Some people can go years between dental visits with little or no effect on their teeth or gums. Others are prone to cavities and gum disease regardless of how frequently they brush and floss. If you're not one of the lucky few, dental phobia can have a real impact on your life.

Tooth decay can worsen over time. Small cavities that were once easily filled can lead to tooth fracture and decay, requiring expensive, invasive root canal treatments and reconstructive work. In turn, this knowledge makes you less likely to seek treatment, creating a vicious cycle.

Oral health is also linked to heart health, which is one of the many reasons it's important to keep your teeth healthy and see a dentist when necessary.

In some cases, dental problems can lead to infection. Failure to treat the infection may allow it to spread, leading to medical illness. Infected tissue can also be injured, so pain is not a common symptom of dental phobia.

Poor dental health can also have an impact on relationships. In the modern world, we want to have clean, healthy, shiny teeth. If your belongings become damaged and rot due to decay and neglect, you may suffer social stigma. Getting certain jobs may become more difficult. Dating may suffer, and things may even become awkward among your friends and family. This can lead to isolation, depression, social anxiety, and even social withdrawal.


If your dental phobia is severe and paralyzing, it's best to consult a trained mental health professional before starting dental treatment.Cognitive behavioral therapy, drugs and hypnosis Can help you control your fears.

Once your phobia reaches a manageable level, you can go to the dentist. However, choosing the right dentist is important. If it has been a long time since your last visit, dentistry today is much different than the dentistry you remember. Still, not all dentists use the same methods and techniques to help people with phobias.

It is always acceptable to schedule an initial consultation without a full inspection and examination. When you call to schedule an appointment, explain that you have dental phobia and are not yet ready to schedule an appointment for a full examination. Your initial appointment will allow you to establish a rapport with your dentist and get used to their attitude and behavior.

When you make further appointments, remember that you are always in control. Work with your dentist to develop a signal that you can use when you need to rest, and a different signal that lets the dentist know you need more anesthetic. Even things like how far back to tilt the chair and the order in which to work can be discussed ahead of time. Discuss with your dentist whether sedation may be available to keep you asleep during your dental procedure.

Many people like to bring a portable music player or even a DVD system to their date (remember your headphones!). Some dentists offer these devices or have televisions or even virtual reality systems. These items can distract you and help you relax.

Dental phobia is a common and treatable phobia. However, untreated, it can cause a range of physical difficulties. Start by seeing a mental health professional to get your phobia under control, then find a dentist you feel comfortable with. Finding a dentist you completely trust is worth the effort.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed research, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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Additional reading

  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Fifth edition. Washington, DC: 2013.

Lisa Fritcher

Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a keen interest in phobias and other mental health topics.

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