John C. Chao, DDS, MAGD

Research Associate Professor, University at Buffalo
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Ostrow School of Dentistry USC

(626) 308-9104

News & Press



John C. Chao, D.D.S., M.A.G.D
Anxiety Management,
Behavior Science,
Faculty, USC School of Dentistry

Are You A Dental Phobic Cowards Are Welcome!

Along with fear of public speaking, dental phobia ranks high on the list of things to avoid. Dental phobia affects millions of Americans, and is one of the major reasons why half the population does not go to the dentist regularly.

With the advent of Lasers, air-abrasion, and micro dentistry, the use of "novocaine" is often not needed to fill teeth. For gum treatment, a strong topical anesthetic in the form of a gel can be swabbed onto the gums to produce numbness without the need for injection in a vast majority of cases. From a technical standpoint, there is every reason to believe you can expect that your visits to the dentist will be pleasant and generally comfortable.

However this will not be convincing enough for the true dental phobic. If you are one, or someone you care about is one; remember the first rule is that you openly admit that you are dentally phobic. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you if you are a "coward" or "chicken" when it comes to the dentist. Just remember that you are in good company.

Let your prospective dentist and the dental staff know that you are phobic from the very first phone conversation. Tell the receptionist what troubles you most about your appointment. Frankly tell them, for example, "I am a coward," "I am deadly afraid of needles." "I break into a cold sweat," "I am scared stiff,"... You will be pleasantly surprised at how empathetic and supportive the receptionist, dental assistant and dental hygienist will be before you even meet the doctor. This is because the staff sees patients just like you on a daily basis, some of whom could be even worse than you. You can make their day when they can help alleviate your anxiety with reassurance, care and concern.

Before you meet your doctor, he/she will have already been informed by the staff what you have told them already. Depending on what approach your doctor decides to take, you may be asked to describe experiences in the past induced this phobia. If the doctor does choose to delve into your experiences in this direct way, don't be afraid to tell your doctor what happened to you. This will allow you to "process" the emotions connected with the past events in a supportive, accepting atmosphere. Just as important, your doctor will devise ways and means of making sure that whatever happened to you before will not occur again. Trust, built up in this frank and honest manner between you, the doctor and staff will in time dissolve any fear you have toward dental treatment.

On the other hand, your doctor may decide after interviewing you, that he/she should take the "experiential" approach. That is, what you need most is a new experience that is totally pleasant and will automatically displace fears left over from past experiences. For instance, having a filling done with no pain at all will go a long way in making your fears go away. Or if your fears are very high, he/she may use a combination of approaches gleaned from long years of training and practice, to help you with the phobia.

After all, dentists are experts when it comes to dealing with dental phobia. This is what dentists do all day long. It is true, "Cowards are welcome!"


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