Where do I begin?

Most people with dental phobias feel utterly alone in their fear, and when they do voice their fears to others, may get to hear comments like “don’t be silly” or even worse, “nobody likes going to the dentist”.

You are not alone!

Where to start?

If you suffer with full-blown dental phobia, you probably won’t have a clue where or how to start. The good news is: you’ve already started! Chances are that it has taken you a lot of courage to google for this information. Your heart would have been pounding (and probably still does), you may have been trembling, you may have broken out in a cold sweat – but you did it all the same. This in itself is an achievement and one you should feel proud of!

Seeing a dentist is not compulsory, but a choice you may or may not make. If eventually, after some research, you do decide to see a dentist, you need to be informed about current thinking and guidance regarding informed consent.

The General Dental Council’s publication Standards for the Dental Team (2013) says that dentists must:

  • Treat every patient with dignity and respect at all times.
  • Take a holistic and preventative approach to patient care which is appropriate to the individual patient.
  • Communicate effectively with patients – listen to them, give them time to consider information and take their individual views and communication needs into account.
  • Recognise and promote patients’ rights to and responsibilities for making decisions about their health priorities and care.
  • Give patients the information they need, in a way they can understand, so that they can make informed decisions.
  • Make sure they have valid consent before starting any treatment or investigation.
  • Patients can withdraw their consent at any time, refuse treatment or ask for it to be stopped after it has started. Dentists must acknowledge their right to do this and follow their wishes.
General Dental Council Standards Poster

Do not settle for anything less than a dentist who follows these standards and who really does view people as active partners in their care, rather than passive recipients.

Some questions to ask yourself…

For many (but by no means all) people with a dental phobia, the fear is tied up with the dentist-patient relationship. Have a read through the following questions:

  • What would my “ideal” visit to a dentist be like?
  • What would the dentist be like?
  • What would they do?
  • What wouldn’t they do?
Man thinking about an ideal visit to the dentist

You don’t need to answer them now.

Identifying your fears

Read up on the fears that apply to you on our Common Fears page.

One word of warning – there are some pages, for example the ones for abuse survivors, which could be triggering. If you get too anxious, please stop reading.

Many people have commented that the Common Fears section is the best section of this website (as well as the Success Stories) because for the first time they realised that they are not alone and that their fears are not weird or abnormal. Hopefully, you will feel the same!

I have other fears that aren’t listed

Everyone has somewhat different fears depending on what caused them in the first place. Sometimes fears are caused by things that are unrelated to, but reminiscent of, the dental situation.

You will notice that we have omitted some common fears – for example, fear of toothpaste commercials, or fear of people mentioning the dreaded D-word. These are really just reminders of the threatening situation. They tend to vanish once you tackle your fears with the help of the right dentist.

Why is it important to identify my fears?

Unless you let your dentist know what it is you fear, he or she won’t be able to help you. They’re not mind readers.

You do not need to explain why you are fearful, if you feel uncomfortable with that. But it really helps if you can convey what you are afraid of, or even make suggestions as to what your dentist might be able to do to help you with your fears.

How do I tell the dentist?

There are several ways of letting potential dentists know about your fears:

  • face-to-face (by telling the dentist in person)
  • entering into an email or Facebook conversation beforehand
  • handing a piece of paper to your dentist when you meet them
  • telling them over the phone.

Choose whichever you feel most comfortable with.

If or when the time comes that you want to see a dentist, you can email the following form to your potential dentist ahead of time, or bring it along for the first get-to-know-you meeting:

For more downloads, including worksheets and a sample email to potential dentists, visit our Downloads page.

Sensitive topics

Many people wonder how or whether to disclose previous bad experiences. You may want to read this article on Difficult Conversations – How much should I tell my new dentist?

Some survivors of sexual, physical and emotional abuse have found it helpful to print out the article below to show to their dentists:

Or you might like to print out these quick info cards for abuse survivors:

They can be printed out, laminated and given to the receptionist, dentist, or nurse when you come in for your appointment. You could also create your own cards and adapt the text to your particular needs. If you’d like to laminate them at home, you can buy self-sealing laminating pouches, or use clear packing tape.

Step 2: Making up your mind

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