The Science behind Dental Phobia

What Is Dental Phobia?

A phobia is an intense, unreasonable, usually specific fear. Specific phobia is part of the wide range of anxiety disorders and affects about 9% of Americans some time in their life. Some phobias are more harmful than others. For example, dental phobia may prevent people from going to regular check-ups with a dentist in Fairbanks. This can lead to problems like gum disease and tooth loss in the long run.

Dental anxiety is similar to a phobia but more common and less severe. People with dental anxiety may feel extra nervous or have exaggerated worries before dental appointments. People with dental phobia feel intense dread and terror.

Signs of dental phobia include:

·         intense dread or terror before or during dental appointments

·         trouble sleeping the night before an appointment

·         increasing anxiety in the waiting room

·         the sight of dental instruments  or white-coated dental staff increases your anxiety

·         the thought of seeing the dentist makes you feel physically ill

·         you panic or have trouble breathing when the dentist or hygienist places dental instruments in your mouth

Fear Response

Fear is a natural reaction that helps our species survive. When a part of your brain called the amygdala detects something it perceives as a threat, it signals the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and norepinephrine. This fight-or-flight response suppresses functions that are less important to your immediate survival (rational thinking, digestion) so your body can use more energy on functions you need to survive the threat (muscle response, faster heart rate).

The fear response is very helpful in situations that are actually dangerous, like running away from an angry bear. Unfortunately, our amygdalas can get mixed up and start to think a less dangerous situation is a deadly threat. That is how a phobia develops.


Genetic factors like the amount of chemicals in the brain may contribute to the development of phobias. For example, low serotonin may increase the chance of various anxiety disorders, including dental phobia.

Someone may develop a phobia after going through, witnessing, or hearing about a frightening event that involves a loss of control.

Fear of pain is a major cause of dental phobia. This factor is most common in adults 24 and older. It may be more common in older adults because their childhood experiences of dentist visits included fewer modern innovations for minimally painful dentistry.

People may feel embarrassed about an emergency dentist getting such a close look at their mouth, especially patients who are self-conscious about how their teeth look.

Western media often portrays dentists as cruel and dental procedures as painful, scary experiences. These over-exaggerated stories may contribute dental phobia.


Left untreated, dental phobia is likely to get worse over time. If people have continually negative experiences with dental in Fairbanks due to fear, it is like a self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps feeding the fear.

Exposure therapy has a high success rate for treating specific phobia. The person with a phobia is gradually exposed to objects or situations associated with their fear. They learn to manage their terror in these increasingly scary scenarios until they no longer feel crippling fear.

Many dentists are well aware of dental phobia. If you talk to the best Alaska dentist about your worries, they may adjust their care in order to alleviate some of those fears.