Dental Phobia: Causes and Treatments, Part 2

By Dr. Omar Abdo,

Continuing my discussion of dental phobia, I turn to more causes of the condition, as well as treatments.

Causes of Dental Phobia: Indirect Experiences
Although direct experiences with dental care, including ones that involved difficult procedures and impersonal dentists, rank as the number one cause of dental phobia, secondhand experiences also play a role. Someone who went through a bad experience might tell his or her friends, thereby coloring others’ perception of oral care.

Mass media also plays on commonly understood fears such as dental phobia. Cartoons, for example, often depict the dentist as a terrifying obstacle for a child. Although such shows usually end with the character marveling at the painlessness of the visit, the idea that dental appointments might be harmful stays with viewers. Stimulus generalization, specifically a bad experience in an environment similar to a dentist’s office, like a hospital area, leads to a negative perception of dental offices.

Treatments for Dental Phobia
Just as dental phobia can occur via a number of means, a plethora of ways to combat the fear exists. Most treatments come in the form of behavioral techniques. One common method, positive reinforcement, involves dentists praising the patient for handling the simplest of ordeals, slowly building confidence during the visit. Another method, the tell-show-do technique, entails articulating the procedure using easily understood language. Dentists then offer a demonstration of the sights, sounds, and tactile elements of the procedure. Finally, they actually perform the procedure.