Causes Of Dental Phobia – Dr Muzzafar Zaman

1.  An important cause of dental phobia, dental anxiety and dental fear is previous conditioning. This means that you would have had a previously unpleasant experience at the dentist. Let’s take an example. Let’s say that last time you had to have a tooth extraction and it turned out to be difficult and took a lot longer than you thought. Due to this conditioning, if you had to have another extraction carried out, you will automatically think that this will also be as bad as last time  even though you have absolutely no prove and it is a illogical assumption.

2.  Learning is vicarious which means that you could have learnt that extractions are really bad by somebody else such as a family member or friend or  colleague who has had a bad experience also. It is therefore no surprise that if mum and dad are nervous about going to the dentist, the children also pickup the signals and also become nervous as well. The whole family then become a irregular attenders.

3.  It is now known that there is individual susceptibility. Some people will naturally be more anxious at going to the dentist then others. This is even taking into account all the other factors and it is not known exactly why there is this individual susceptibility.

4.  Although we have touched upon this aspect above, it is important to understand that much of dental phobia, dental anxiety and dental fear is due to poor knowledge of something.  Let’s look at the extraction example and a patient may think that the dentist is intentionally trying to hurt them or is going to break their jaw bone. This is an illogical thinking mode.

5.  Media stereotypes  are another cause of why patients may be nervous at the dentist.  A person may have read in a book at how bad it is to have a certain procedure at the dentist and this in turn impacts a person themselves when they go to the dentist.

6. One of the reasons why patients are particularly prone to dental anxiety is when they have to lie back in the chair. This naturally causes the body and the mind to feel open and vulnerable. There is a lack of control which contributes to dental phobia, dental anxiety and dental fear.

7. At the dentist, there are usually a number of triggers which cause anxiety or fear. The common triggers are needles, drills, high frequency sounds, other nervous patients in the waiting room ,vibrations and smells such as the dental filling materials especially those containing eugenol and also smells such as burning of tooth dentine. Patients therefore associate these triggers with fear and anxiety.

The Scientific paper by Milgrom identified 4 groups of causes of dental fear depending on the source. These groups were as follows:

(A)  A specific stimuli

(B)  The dental personnel.

(C) A generalised anxiety.

(D) Being anxious of a catastrophe occurring.

Based on all of the above factors, it is important that you as a patient tell the dentist why you think you are anxious and in that way they are able to deal with your anxiety.