Facing your common fears

Monday: Dental appointment :-(

Is there another diary date guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of so many? Why do those who ooze confidence in business, laugh in the face of a stressful school run, or a spend a weekend abseiling off things, fear the thought of sitting in the dentist’s chair? The answer lies in common human fears.

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Loss of Control

Nervous flyer syndrome is similar to fear of the dentist. Most people I have worked with on fear of flying have been most confident when feeling in control. Underneath it all, they fear not so much the plane crashing as giving up control to the pilot. Our fear of dentistry is often similar; the more we enjoy being in control, the less comfortable we will feel giving up control to our dentist.


A new dentist, new procedure or years between visits can provoke uncertainty fears. Uncertainty is one of the most uncomfortable human conditions. When we do not know what is going to happen, we can feel anxious. Instinctively, we can then anticipate the worst to avoid being caught unawares and scare ourselves silly.

Fearing Fear Itself

Flight, fight, or freeze is classic fear responses. Instincts will tell us to do one or the other of these when afraid but of course, once in the dentist’s chair our options for action are limited. Social conditioning will tell us it is not right as an adult to take flight and run from the surgery. The same conditioning will tell us it is improper to fight our dentist. So we fear as the nervous patient being left trapped in the chair, feeling anxious. We end up fearing fear itself.

Pain and Shame

Dentistry’s reputation for causing physical pain is unfair, but ‘mud sticks.’ Fear of being shamed paying a visit to a dentist after a long absence is equally painful. Imagining being told off the poor state of our teeth builds a block to visiting our dentist. This makes our dental problems worse, so we stay away longer… creating a negative cycle.

How can we happily put a star beside the dental appointment in our diaries?

  • Deal with fears of loss of control and uncertainty. Knowledge is power and makes us feel empowered. Ask your dentist to explain procedures and address concerns you may have such as how long it might take, how you might expect to feel during and after.
  • Be an anxiety buster! If you are anxious and feel you have to hide it that will make you more anxious. So if you are a nervous – tell your dentist.
  • Get comfortable: Can you listen to music which you feel relaxes you? Can you have the pain relief you might prefer? If we think nervous thoughts, our body tenses. If we can relax our body, our thinking relaxes.

Last but not least; choose a dentist that you feel comfortable to address the above points with. Choose someone with both the personal qualities and professional experience you value. The working relationship between dentist and patient is such an important one, and key to whether you feel confident.

About the author

Liz Karter is a therapist in addiction, author and speaker. Practicing since 2001 she has helped hundreds of men and women successfully move beyond addiction to rewarding lives.

With a great reputation for making sense of addiction in an approachable, plain English style, Liz has appeared in numerous national & international TV, radio & newsprint interviews including Al Jazeera America, BBC Breakfast News, Sky News & ITV’s This Morning. She is also author of the books ‘Women & Problem Gambling’ and ‘Working with Women’s Groups for Problem Gambling.’

Liz has extensive experience of addiction having worked with all leading UK treatment agencies. She now works as an independent practitioner in the City of London & Sussex.


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