Cognitive behavioural therapy could beat dental fears


Cognitive behavioural therapy used to overcome fear of the dentist.

Could cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) be the answer to dental phobias?

Estimates from the most recent Adult Dental Health Survey in the UK suggest around one in 10 British people suffer from dental phobia, the Australian Dental Association puts the national figure slightly higher at around 16% of the population.

But a new UK study has published results suggesting cognitive behavioral therapy could help those people with a dental phobia overcome their fear. It has proven so successful that many people no longer require sedation in order to undertake a long-dreaded visit to their dentist. 

People with dental phobias can see a marked impact on their overall health when left untreated, typically avoidant of the dentist to the extreme that they end up experiencing more dental pain, poor oral health and an increased effect on their quality of life.

Cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to help with a range of psychological problems, and is typically used to treat depression and anxiety-related disorders. In the cited study, published in the British Dental Journal, 130 patients were observed. After attending psychologist-led CBT treatment, the outcomes of their sessions were recorded.

Patients were surveyed for their levels of dental anxiety, general anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol use and oral health-related quality of life. Around 75 percent scored 19 or higher on the Modified Dental Anxiety Scale (MDAS), which indicates dental phobia. The remainder all scored high on one or more items of the MDAS, suggesting a specific fear to do with some aspect of dentistry—primarily injections and drilling.

Of all patients, 79 percent went on to have post-treatment dental work without the need for sedation, with the average number of CBT appointments required around five. The only downside to CBT is the amount of time it takes for an outcome. In some cases, five appointments may not be that long. But some people with more extreme fears may require more than five sessions. Not only is this treatment time consuming, it can also be expensive. 

Some people may find it beneficial to invest in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, whilst others simply may not have the time or money. If your fear of the dentist is extreme, then perhaps this psychological treatment is for you. However you need to make your dentistry experience easier, be sure to try it. Keeping your teeth in good health is so important, so make sure you find a way that makes the dentist seem less horrifying!

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  1. Based on the shocking dentistry and dentists I’ve experienced in Melbourne, the only reason for dental phobia is the dentists in Melbourne.
    3 dentists have damaged my teeth, necessitating more dentistry to fix it, which is not going all that well.
    Others have performed lousy fillings, a couple have exercised shocking customer service – no skills in that direction at all.
    I used to experience good dentists who cared about teeth.

    The recent ones I’ve had ground down HEALTHY teeth, violating my informed consent.
    One dentist wanted to extract a tooth that did not need extracting. (I managed to avoid that one.) She charged me $610 dollars for a minuscule patch that was supposed to be a full restoration.
    One dentist put in a filling that fell out a couple of hours later and did not refund my money or offer me an appointment to fix it.
    I could go on.
    I have no confidence any more in any dentist in Melbourne or anywhere else, even though I will keep trying to get my teeth fixed.
    The dentists in Melbourne that I ‘ve experienced are expensive little brutes and should not be in that line of work.

    • Dear Jill,
      It sounds like you’ve had a horrible experience, and we would strongly recommend you get in touch with the Dental Board as soon as possible. In the meantime, despite your terrible experience, we confidently believe the vast majority of dentists in Melbourne (and in Australia) are professional, well-trained and caring. Good luck in your hunt for a new one.
      The Editors

      • Thank you for your advice to go to the Dental Board. While I have rung the ADA and spoken to a couple of people I have been too ill to deal with these matters properly.

        You can “believe” all you like about dentists – the problem is it is way too arbitrary you get good care or not and they don’t listen to clients.

        Look after your teeth because dentists these days won’t, even if they tell you they will.


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