Dental Patient Paralysis: Help for Handling Your Out of Control Fear of the Chair

Both children and adults generally dislike going to the dentist, but this fear can become greater as people age, causing major problems. Those with bad experiences from their youth can be especially vulnerable to this fear. Anxiety causes millions of Americans to avoid seeking the right preventative care, and thereby risk developing gum disease, experiencing dental pain, bad or lost teeth. Studies have also linked gum disease to serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. There are, fortunately, dentists who are specially trained to deal with the fear of dentistry and use different methods and treatments to avoid fear and pain.

Finding the Right Dentist Matters

Unfortunately, patience and understanding are unevenly distributed among dentists, and few have the requisite skills to help a patient with a fear or phobia. Finding suitably trained and affordable dentists is challenging, but not impossible. It’s essential that you feel comfortable, whether you’re having a simple check-up or a serious procedure, as you may interrupt the process and/or have a bad experience which will make you less likely to want to return. Keeping the lines of communication open and honest with your dentist can save you much pain and expense later in life.

The Causes of Fear

Avoiding dentists out of fear and anxiety can cause patients to go only when necessary, or not at all. A majority attribute their fear to bad experiences in the dentist’s office, often in childhood. The teeth are an especially sensitive part of the body, and being located right beneath what we experience as our seat of consciousness (i.e. our eyes), any external interference with them can feel especially intrusive. Some have fear as a side effect of other mood or anxiety disorders, substance abuse or domestic violence.

Feeling a lack of control is most often reported as the root cause of the fear, rather than the experience of pain itself. Having the dentist hover above you, not being able to talk and having multiple objects inserted in your mouth can be an unnerving experience. Some dentists can make matters worse by treating patients as if they share the same levels of anxiety and pain thresholds and being inflexible in how they carry out their operations. Taking the time to make yourself comfortable is essential, but this requires pre-planning and some degree of assertiveness.

Treating Fear

Design can go a long way in avoiding the cues of people’s panic and phobias. Certain dentists have more welcoming waiting rooms that contain no daunting posters and look less like a cold, white-walled clinic and more like a comfortable living room. Some also help patients regain a sense of control by telling them they can leave whenever they want, gently explaining how and discussing the treatment beforehand, asking permission to proceed from one stage of the treatment to another and allowing for breaks and questions.

To get the most out of your visit, prepare a list of questions to ask beforehand. How can you best prepare for the appointment; i.e. will regular flossing make the appointment faster or less painful? Consider discussing sedative options, such as local anaesthetic or nitrous oxide.

Some dentists who offer to cater in such a way to phobic patients don’t do it well which is why, when you first call to make an appointment you should be honest with your fears to see if they take them seriously. If they don’t make accommodations or don’t seem to know what to do, they’re probably not right for you.


If you’re not sure about going alone, take a friend or relative for support. Some dentists will even allow them in the treatment room. Breathing techniques and listening to music can be useful strategies for self-help prior to arriving. If you’re apprehensive about your first appointment with a clinic you’ve never been to before, consider scheduling a simple consultation for your first visit. If you have a severe phobia or continue struggling, consider seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist. Most often, specific phobias can be solved without the aid of medication but if you suffer from anxiety in other parts of your life you might consider pharmacological options.

Dental visits – even those most feared procedures such as wisdom tooth extraction –are often not as painful as anticipated, and are almost always preferable to letting a serious condition develop. Now you know some of things to look for when finding the right dentist, so you can regain strength, courage and peace of mind from overcoming your fears.

Rhys Owen shares some tips and knowledge on dental matters. He works in a dental office and is always available to offer extra support for those with a dental phobia to help them get through the experience.