Fear of the dentist

NLP techniques

Or is it a phobia?

Is it a fear of the dentist you have?  Or is it needles?  Perhaps it is both.  Is it a fear or a phobia?


Love is what we were born with.  Fear is what we learned here.

Marianne Williamson


It is important to know at the outset the difference between a fear and a phobia.  I have a friend who, for most of his life, said he had a phobia of needles. 

But he worked with them.  Pictures of needles didn’t alarm him.  If he had a phobia he would have freaked out at the mere mention or sight of a needle.  

In reality, he was frightened of needles but was too embarrassed to say so.  Wrapping it up in such a way and describing it as a phobia was more comfortable for him.  

It was as if to say, “Well, I have this phobia, which is a sort of an illness and there is nothing I can do about it.”  He was wrong on all counts.

Phobias and fears are each states of mind.  Neither of them is an illness.  Because they are states of mind, those states of mind can be changed.  If you prefer to put it another way, they can be cured.

Phobias or irrational fears develop in early life usually because of a single bad experience.  We are creatures of habit.  It is how we learn to survive and manage our daily lives, and most of the time it works well for us.

Fear of the dentist may be caused by a single experience

But a single bad experience puts us off.  If we burn our hands on the fire, we don’t put our hands too close to fire again.  If a young child jams its hand in the door, it is careful not to put it there again.

So if at some time in the past you experienced pain at the dentist, you may not be very keen to return.  

Your mind has associated that pain with the dentist and replays the pictures and the feelings every time you think about dentists or dentistry.  You may even shudder at the thought.

These days modern anaesthetics are so good and dentists so skilled that little pain is felt during dental procedures.  But it wasn’t always so.  

When I was a child and teenager I ate too many sweets which damaged my teeth and the cavities had to be filled.

Although the dentist injected anaesthetic into the gum, it did no more than delay the pain for a short while, and the more he rolled his ghastly drill around the tooth the greater the pain became.

It is interesting that while I am describing the process the pictures are coming back into my mind quite vividly.  

Fear of the dentist and missing the appointment

The stage came when I was about 14 years old that rather than face the dentist for a check up I deliberately missed the appointment.

A few months later I had great cause to regret it.  I suffered agonising toothache all over the Christmas period, had to see an emergency dentist as soon as one reopened after the holiday, and he extracted the very large decaying molar.  

That caused me serious pain for a further week or more while the gum healed.

I didn’t miss any more appointments.  The experience of failing to go to the dentist was far more painful than actually going.  As it happened, as the years went by techniques and anaesthetics improved beyond measure.

Techniques to remove fear of the dentist

If you have a fear of the dentist, there are a number of techniques you can employ to diminish or completely remove that fear.  

One is to practise self-hypnosis and there are other pages on this website where you can learn all about that.

The chances are that as the dentists appointment grows nearer, or you are reaching the time when you really must make an appointment or seriously risk the health of your teeth and gums, that you start to make rather big pictures in your mind and constantly replay them to yourself.

It is the way we think.  Remember that phrase from the Desiderata, “Many fears are born of imaginings”.  Actually, almost all fears are born of imaginings and most of it never happens. 

Fear of the dentist or fear of fear itself?

Franklin Delaney Roosevelt in his inauguration address (speaking about the great depression) said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  

Too often we permit fear to take over and run us.  It is evidenced to me by the large numbers of people who read articles on this website about fear.

So when you see that picture close up and big, start by mentally pushing it away and making it smaller and, as you do so, drain the colour from it.  

Imagine you are turning a knob which completely whites out the picture.  Push it off into the distance until it is no more than a spec of dust.  Then bring the picture back and repeat the exercise at least five times.

Before you actually go to the dentist practise self-hypnosis or some other relaxation technique.  My dentist plays soothing classical music in the waiting room and when I visited yesterday I used it to chill out completely.

I allowed my body to become completely limp in the chair, defocused my eyes by concentrating on a spot on the far wall, and just permitted my mind to wander away and the music to slip away deeper into the background, and as it did so I went deeper and deeper still.

In that deep state I thought about those many things in my life for which I can be grateful, the happy memories and rich experiences.  In other words, I took myself to a better place.

Now, when the dentist popped her head around the door to call me through, I was in a very relaxed and pleasant frame of mind.  She is a lovely lady and we chatted for a few minutes before the procedure commenced.

Indeed, she told me that the nerve endings might be a little sensitive to the treatment and, if so, to raise my hand.  I smiled and said, “I’ll take myself to another place.”

As soon as the chair was lowered and she was about to start on my teeth, I immediately focused again on an object across the room and allowed myself to drift. 

A radio was playing in the background and I allowed the sounds to push my mind off into the distance.  Mentally, I was in another place. 

Of course, I was aware that the dentist was working on my teeth, but I was not focusing upon that; I was somewhere else focusing on more pleasant things.

The single most important piece of advice I can give if you have a fear of the dentist or anything else is to place your concentration elsewhere.  The more successful you are at that, the sooner you will conquer your fear.



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