Patient Anxiety Vs Patient Phobia?

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room - the avoidance of dental care due to fear of dentistry;  talk about a well-known barrier to oral health!  Am I right?  Many anxious patients will accept dental treatment if managed by a supportive/sympathetic team. However, a proportion of the population will require sedation to help them accept dental treatment, this is geared more towards the phobic patient.  While the fear of dentistry is much more common than one may think, there are various reasons why patients may refuse dental care, and we aren’t one to speculate!  When any office is managing patients, it is important to aid those who are reluctant to have dental treatments and to understand the difference between anxiety and phobia.


Phobia (definition):

An irrational fear of an object or situation – the fear response is excessive and disproportionate to the threat posed.

  • This is a lasting abnormal fear that is usually deep-rooted in a patient's emotions and often its origin cannot be explained, although this is not always the case
  • The patient has little or no control over the phobia and logical thought is not a feature
  • A phobia can significantly change a patient's behavior
  • Embarrassment and shame are often present.

Patients who suffer from dental phobia have a higher risk of gum disease and early tooth loss, as well as discolored or damaged teeth. They may smile less or keep their mouths partly closed when they speak, making people self-conscious and insecure. Some patients may become so embarrassed about how their teeth look that their professional and/or personal lives begin to suffer.

Anxiety (definition):

A human emotion which causes feelings of apprehension, tension, and discomfort and is associated with increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system.

  • Anxiety is a learned response
  • An anxious patient is in a state of unease
  • Anxiety can be measured by using self-reported questionnaires such as the Modified Dental Anxiety Scale


So, what is the "normal" anxiety from phobia boundary?  This isn’t clear… Everyone has fears and concerns and copes with them indifferently!  However, the prospect of dental work does not need to fill you with angst. If it does, then you may need some help overcoming the fears.

7 GREAT Ways to curb your Dental Anxiety:

  • Focus on your breathing – slow it down and make it regular
  • Crank up some tunes
  • Discuss your fears with your dentist
  • Watch what you eat and drink
  • Use hand signals
  • Pick a low-stress appointment time
  • Go to your happy place

If this describes you, try talking to your dentist about your feelings, concerns, and fears. He or she will gladly help you overcome these feelings and discuss options for your treatment plan!