Being Scared of The Dentist

DFC Symbol
Written by the Dental Fear Central Web Team
Last updated on January 17, 2021

“I’m terrified of the dentist!”

Being afraid of “the dentist” as a person can be the result of past cold, uncaring, or even abusive behaviour on the part of dentists you may have encountered.

You may fear things like

  • hurtful remarks about the state of your teeth and your oral hygiene,
  • the dentist inflicting pain and not caring/not stopping, or
  • being treated like a set of teeth rather than like a person.

The following video guide by Daniel Finkelman is designed to empower you to deal with a fear of authoritarian dentists, by providing practical suggestions and tools:

Are all dentists evil?

If you’ve had bad experiences with dentists in the past, it’s very easy to make the assumption that dentists, in general, are bad people.

There’s a theory called construct theory, which states that we tend to ascribe certain attributes to a group of people who have something in common (in this case, dentists), based on our experiences with this group. However, these constructs (e. g. “evil” as opposed to “kind”, “bad” as opposed to “good”, “cold” as opposed to “warm”, and so on) tend to be based on a very small number of observations.

Construct theory: we tend to ascribe personality characteristics to dentists based on previous experiences

Even if you’ve had the misfortune of running into 10 dentists, none of whom was particularly kind and caring, and two or three of whom were downright sadistic, this does not mean that ALL dentists conform to this apparent pattern. It simply means that you were incredibly unlucky in the past.

Good apples, bad apples

In any industry or occupation, there are those who are great and those who are not so great (or bad) and unfortunately, dentistry is no different. The best dentists have a combination of great clinical and great communication skills. And in an ideal world, every person who qualifies from university as a dentist would be someone who is great at dentistry and great with their patients.

However, in the real world, there are always going to be some who are better than others. You’ll probably want to find someone who is kind, considerate, easy to talk to, and who makes you feel at ease in their company.

Ask a Dentist!

“I am scared that the dentist will treat me as just another set of teeth.”

For most good dentists, the true joy of their work comes from the people that they get to meet and talk to every day. As in all professions, there are extroverts and introverts, chatterboxes and silent types. What you need to do is find a dentist who is right for you and your communication style. If you find that your dentist’s communication style is not right for you, then maybe it is time for a change.

This is one of the reasons we talk about making contact with a few practices before you even book an appointment… If a dentist is willing to take the time to reply to an e-mail or return a phone call before you are a patient, this is a good sign that they are motivated to help people.” (Fraser Hendrie, BDS)

I love what I do, it’s fun, fulfilling, dynamic etc… I constantly searched for a health care profession where I could spend quality time with my patients, have an active role in their health and one where I made a difference. Dentistry did that for me… Many of you have seen a horrible dentist or had this horrible experience that started all the fear. Yes, I have to admit dentistry is like every other job and it has good people that care and love what they do and want to help, and others that couldn’t care less. This is the same with doctors, dentists, painters, designers, builders etc.

But do not let this small hurdle stop you from getting the treatment and help you need. If you were in a community with only one dentist and you had no choice, that is one thing, but 99% of us are not. Dentistry is a very competitive field… so go out and find the dentist you like, one that loves what they do and not just in it for the money and one that you trust and respect.” (Canadian dentist, wishes to remain anonymous)

How do I find a dentist who treats me like a person, rather than a set of teeth?

Like any other profession, dentists are a hit-and-miss affair when you pick one at random. The key is to do your research, and, hopefully, enter into a conversation (either by email or on the phone) even before your first meeting.

In the What Can Help section, you will find tips for finding a caring dentist.

Are people who choose to become dentists sadists at heart? We’ve interviewed some dentists to find out!

Actually, these interviews are a great way of finding out how dentists tick, what motivates them, and what to look out for in a potential dentist. They make for fascinating reading, so if you have a fear of the dentist, do check them out!

Cartoon © Dan Rosandich, reprinted with permission