What To Do When Dental Fear Is Ruining Your Smile

added on: July 21, 2021

Like most adults these days, I keep a full schedule. Things like spending time to have my car’s tires rotated or getting the oil changed takes a chunk out of my day and always takes longer than I’d hoped. However, I know that not having these tasks done can come back to haunt me in ways that can be costly and even more time-consuming.

Making sure my car is properly maintained may invoke a sense of dread, but it’s never something that triggers fear, of course. For tasks that do create a sense of dread or feelings of anxiety, it’s understandable that some people may delay tending to them. When it comes to dentistry, even basic check-ups and cleanings can be put off and off for people who have intense feelings surrounding these visits.


The problem is, like a vehicle, delays in care result in problems in the future. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when”.

Adults who are fearful or anxious when it comes to dental visits are fairly common. According to a 2018 article in Dental Products Report, “one-third of the U.S. population avoids going to the dentist because of dental anxiety or fear.” In this, they share findings from a survey of 18,000 people regarding dentistry.

Sixty-one percent of respondents admitted to dental fear with nearly 4 percent having never seen a dentist. In addition to being afraid of pain, other fear triggers were chemical smells, sound of the drill, fear of being stuck in the dental chair, and feeling afraid of having to keep their mouth open for lengthy periods.


If you have these fears or concerns, it may help to know that you are not alone. Yet, being one of many doesn’t do anything to help when it comes to having a confident, healthy smile. This is where our Shelby Twp dental office can help.

Nearly 25 years ago as a young dentist, I realized the extent of adults who struggled with dental fears. This was an especially troubling fact for me as a dentist since I’ve always prided myself on a gentle touch and (as my patients tell me), my “painless 

injections.” Knowing people were avoiding dental care because they perceived their care would cause them pain was so concerning to me, I sought out ways to address this through more than just being gentle. After all, I couldn’t help any individual until they came into our dental office.

Thus, we began offering a safe sedative for patients, which was provided in pill form. Oral sedation, once swallowed, instilled relaxation effects to ease tensions and anxiety. When the medication had taken full effect, patients were covered with a warm blanket and would often doze in and out. We then administered Novocain and began treatment once the patient was fully numb.

During treatment, sedated patients were monitored by trained staff and safety equipment. After treatment, recovery was quick and patients had little or no memory of treatment afterwards. While Oral Sedation was a blessing for helping fearful patients achieve healthy, attractive smiles, we noticed another benefit in the mix. Patients who’d once dreaded or avoided dentistry began to see our dental office as a pleasant place where comfort was always a priority. They began to arrive with a smile and check-out with a smile!

And, to me as a Macomb County dentist, my biggest joy came in knowing many of these patients began to no longer need the sedation, feeling confident in our hands and able to relax without the need for medication.

Because this medication was so effective for a number of patients to move into a positive dental relationship, we realized that we were still missing another segment of fearful patients – those with severe dental fears or dental phobia.

The difference between dental fear or anxiety and dental phobia can be different from one person to another. However, in most cases, those with dental fear or anxiety will eventually come into a dental office for care when they experience pain or become concerned that tooth loss is on the horizon with continued delays. Dental phobics tend to have physical reactions with the mere thoughts of going to a dentist. These can include a rapid heart beat, sweating, crying, feeling faint and shortness of breath. Many will allow their teeth to decay and tolerate gum disease symptoms to the point where emergency room visits become necessary.

As a dentist who has developed an Eastern Michigan reputation for converting fearful dental patients to patients who now gladly have regular dental care without anxiety, I decided to add I.V. sedation as one of our sedative options. I.V. sedation is a deeper level of sedation, placing the patient in a sleep state, frequently referred to as “twilight sleep.” In this, the patient is unaware of the procedure and has no memory of it afterwards. Although the recovery takes longer, some patients prefer this option to help complete procedures they may have otherwise avoided.

Both oral and I.V. sedation are available for patients who may have no fears but prefer the added relaxation through care. For example, a patient with a lengthy procedure may opt for Oral Sedation to avoid feeling fatigued afterwards. Or, a patient may simply want to combine the procedures of 2 or 3 appointments into one long one, with sedation easing them through the process. As with all procedures, the comfort and safety of our patients is a priority. Sedated patients are closely monitored by trained team members who use advanced safety equipment.

The good news for people with dental fears or phobia is… You CAN overcome the obstacles that are preventing you from having the healthy, beautiful smile you desire! We have hundreds of patients who are testaments to this, who now receive compliments for the appearance off their smiles and have the confidence their oral health is a complement to their overall health.

Having good oral health is coming to light as an important factor in our overall health. It has become apparent, through years of research, that oral health and our overall health are highly integrated. Researchers have noted that the bacteria associated with periodontal (gum) disease can enter the bloodstream, triggering inflammatory reactions throughout the body. For instance, research has found that oral bacteria levels can affect the severity of diabetes, arthritis and Prostatitis (a disease of the prostate).


In addition, these infectious bacteria can activate or worsen other diseases and conditions, with severe (or even deadly) repercussions. These health problems include heart disease, some cancers, stroke, high blood pressure, preterm babies, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Our desire is that fearful individuals begin at a pace that is appropriate for their needs rather than have a painful event force them into our Shelby Township dental office. Thus, I have authored a booklet that serves as a guide for the fearful dental patient. It has been helpful for a number of people and is an appreciated ‘gift’ to pass on to someone who may benefit. (Download at: https://www.banrbarbatdds.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Barbat-DentalFear-eBook-FINAL.pdf)

Dental fear is nothing to be ashamed of or too embarrassing to discuss with any member of our team. We are respectful and compassionate to all patients, at every appointment. Some people feel better beginning with a conversation in our private consultation room. This is a comfortable setting that is removed from the clinical side of the office. There is no charge for this time. To schedule, call: 586-739-2155 or tap here.

Let us help you overcome the obstacles to a healthy, bright smile! We look forward to seeing your transformation!

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Dr. Ban R. Barbat

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