Dentophobia is a fear of the dentist. People with this specific phobia feel anxious when they think about going to the dentist or actually visit the dentist. Past negative experiences, family history or feeling a loss of control can lead to dentophobia. Exposure therapy, guided imagery and relaxation techniques can help you overcome this disorder.
People with dentophobia, also called odontophobia, have a fear of dentists. Someone with dentophobia may have extreme anxiety at the thought of going to the dentist or while in the dentist’s office.
Phobias are a kind of anxiety disorder. They lead to excessive fear of an event or situation that isn’t actually harmful.
Dentophobia is a type of specific phobia disorder. A specific situation (going to the dentist) leads to a fearful response.
Dentophobia is an extreme fear that’s out of proportion to the situation. People with dentophobia avoid seeing the dentist even when they’re in pain. This condition is so severe that it can lead to very poor dental health. These problems may affect a person’s relationships or job prospects, too.
Severe fear of dental treatment involves feelings of distress, but these feelings aren’t as extreme as dentophobia. People with dental anxiety worry a lot about pain or stress at the dentist, but will likely still see their dentist for treatment, unlike those with dentophobia.
About 36% of people in the U.S. have a fear of dental treatment, with 12% having an extreme fear. About 3% of adults in industrialized countries may have dentophobia and avoid going to the dentist at all.
Fear of dentists is more common in females than in males. Some studies suggest that nearly 3% of men and almost 5% of women have dentophobia.
Someone with dentophobia may be afraid of:
You’re more likely to develop a fear of dentists or a different type of specific phobia disorder if you already have:
Other phobias linked to dentophobia include:
Possible causes of dentophobia include:
Dentophobia triggers include:
Dentophobia symptoms can range from mild to extreme. They include:
In addition to the above symptoms, dentophobia triggers may cause some people to:
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognizes dentophobia as a specific phobic disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Your healthcare provider may diagnose dentophobia if you experience intense anxiety or fear when thinking about or visiting the dentist.
Your dentist or healthcare provider may suggest that you see a mental health professional like a psychologist. This healthcare provider can formally evaluate your symptoms, including how the phobia impacts your daily life.
You may have this specific phobic disorder if your fear of dentists:
How can I find out if my child has dentophobia?
A constant fear of the dentist can be extremely upsetting for your child. If your child is very young, it may be difficult for them to verbalize what’s wrong.
If severe fear of the dentist greatly impacts your child’s life, your child’s healthcare provider or dentist may recommend they visit a mental health professional. This healthcare provider can look at your child’s symptoms, offer a diagnosis and help you form a treatment plan.
Exposure therapy is one of the main treatments for a fear of dentists. During exposure therapy, a mental health professional exposes you to situations and images that may trigger your symptoms. This exposure happens in a controlled setting where you can work through your responses. Most people with specific phobias see their symptoms improve after getting this type of psychotherapy (talk therapy).
During exposure therapy, you:
Other techniques to overcome dentophobia include:
Severe dentophobia often results in poor oral health when people don’t visit the dentist. Poor oral health can lead to:
Fear of dentists can also have a negative effect on your general well-being. People whose oral health has been impacted by dentophobia may become embarrassed about their teeth and avoid seeing friends or family. Dentophobia can also affect their performance at work or school.
Due to these factors, dentophobia can spur:
In addition to seeking long-term treatment if needed, you can try certain techniques to cope with dentophobia during a dental visit. You might:
You should call your healthcare provider if you have:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
Yes, dentophobia is a real phobia disorder that’s recognized in the DSM. But even phobias not found in the DSM are real if they affect your life. People who have a fear of the dentist can use treatment and coping strategies to overcome their phobia.
To find a dentist who understands dentophobia, first get dentist suggestions from trusted friends and family members. Then, make an initial appointment with the dentist to discuss your fears.
Based on the initial meeting, you’ll need to evaluate if you feel comfortable with the dentist. It may take some trial and error to find a dentist who understands your situation. It’s worth spending the time to find someone who’ll help you feel less anxious during any treatments.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Dentophobia (fear of dentists) can lead to untreated dental problems and poor oral health. This phobia can also affect your self-confidence and relationships. Healthcare providers and your dentist can help you overcome your fear of going to the dentist. Many techniques, including exposure therapy, guided imagery and relaxation techniques, can reduce your anxiety and improve your quality of life.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/22/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.