• Dental Phobia Support

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For the people who feel like they will never get over the fear...



Super Moderator
Staff member
Mar 27, 2006
United States
Hi All!

I read a lot of posts from other members who are ashamed to admit that they still feel fearful about treatment even though they like and trust their dentist and feel like they are not making progress with their fears. Like many of you, even though I have been with the same dentist for a long time and feel that I really trust her, I at times, really struggle with managing my anxiety and never can really figure out why. Sometimes I doubt my progress with working through my fears and think I’m sliding backwards but I think I finally found a geeky, neurosciencey, nerdy yet very reasonable explanation for this (so we can stop beating ourselves up about it!). If this is you, keep reading!

I have been reading a book by neuroanatomist and (the book is actually about strokes but that’s besides the point). One chapter of the book describes the link between emotion and sensation. It says that the limbic system which is responsible for emotions places an affect (or assigns an emotion) to information streaming through our senses. The limbic system contains the cingulate gyrus which is partly responsible for focusing the brain’s attention and the amygdala which triggers the fear/rage response. The response can be triggered by unfamiliar or threatening stimuli which raises anxiety and focuses the mind’s attention on the immediate situation. Under these circumstances, our attention shifts to focus on self-preserving behavior for the present moment (i.e. fight or flight).

Here is the really crucial piece of information though:
Sensory information is immediately processed through our limbic system. There is a direct link between sensation and emotions. This means that by the time the message reaches our cerebral cortex for higher thinking (to judge whether the stimulus is TRULY threatening) we have already placed an emotion or feeling on how we view that stimulation. So in reality, all it takes is exposure to a sensation to automatically trigger the fight or flight response and it doesn’t matter if our rational mind knows that we are in fact safe because it hasn’t reached that part of the brain yet. I’m sure historically this has always been an advantage in the survival aspect because it allows for very fast reactions but it definitely doesn’t help us in the dental chair. I hypothesize that this is likely why studies have found that patients who expect to feel pain are more likely to interpret pressure/vibration/cold as painful while those not anticipating pain did not. This also points out why preparing the patient about upcoming sensations is so so important. So stop blaming yourself when you feel really anxious during appointments…blame your limbic system instead! :rolleyes: Reading this made me feel a lot better about myself and where I stand with my fears and I don't feel like I need to place so much pressure on myself to not be scared or feel guilty when I do so thought I'd share. :grouphug:
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