Overcoming Fear of the Dentist

Overcoming Fear of the Dentist

In the 1996 horror film, The Dentist, Corbin Bernsen played a horrifying (of course!) oral surgeon, Dr. Alan Firestone. That role did more to fuel dental phobia than even 1976’s Marathon Man. Remember Lawrence Olivier asking Dustin Hoffman, “Is it safe yet?” These days, 24 percent of adults have dental fear and four percent have an outright dental phobia; those feelings of apprehension and anxiety aren’t at all entertaining.  

If that’s you, you probably avoid going to the dentist even annually and that puts you at increased risk for cavities and gum (periodontal) disease. Periodontal disease is associated with everything from chronic bad breath to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

But a new study out of King’s College London found that after five weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), 79 percent of dentist-fearing folks were able to have normal dental procedures (cleaning, getting a filling) without being sedated.

The effect is not long-lasting for everyone however, because many folks with dental fears also have high levels of general anxiety (27 percent in this study) and depression (12 percent). For those folk treatment with extended therapy (and possibly medication) is required to get their smile to stay good looking.

So if you can’t remember the last time you had your teeth cleaned, go to sharecare.com for extensive info on CBT and the website for the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (www.abct.org) to find a practitioner near you. That will put a smile on your face, and make your RealAge younger.

Medically reviewed in May 2019.

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