Many people dread the dentist, even though dental visits are the No. 1 key to dental health. Once you understand the reasons for all those skipped appointments, you can start to overcome your dental anxiety.

By Wyatt Myers

Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

Has a painful past experience given you a fear of the dentist? Do you fear getting bad news about your dental health? Whatever the reason, you’re not alone — many Americans are simply skipping visits to the dentist. Overall, about 65 percent of us go to the dentist, but in some states, that number is much lower, even as low as 51.9 percent in Mississippi.

This is more than unfortunate — it can be downright dangerous, because regular dental visits are a key component of overall dental health. “We use our teeth multiple times a day, every day,” says Jennifer K. Shin, DDS, a dentist in private practice in New York City. “They take on a lot of abuse, so coming in twice a year gives us an opportunity to assess any changes that can be easily addressed. If problems are caught early, the solutions are easy, quick, and inexpensive. But a cavity left undiagnosed can lead to a toothache, requiring much more extensive and costly treatments.”

 Why We Fear the Dentist

Why are people avoiding dental visits? The answer includes a wide range of reasons:

Cost. High prices are the major factor preventing many people from getting regular dental checkups. A recent survey found that 44 percent of people were not visiting the dentist because they don’t have dental insurance. “The truth is that if you take good care of your teeth and mouth, yearly dental visits won’t cost a ton of money,” says John Dodes, DDS, a dentist in Forest Hills, N.Y., and author of Healthy Teeth: A User’s Guide. “Easy additions to your routine, like flossing and rinsing with a therapeutic mouthwash like Listerine, can help get and keep your mouth healthy.”

Dental anxiety. Many people simply are afraid of the dentist’s office, but David S. Keen, DDS, a dentist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif., says there are a number of things you can do to minimize this. An effective way to make the experience positive is to speak with your dentist about your fears, and consider listening to pleasant music to promote an environment that is positive and soothing, more like a spa, he says. “Communication is usually the best way to develop a positive dental experience.”

Fear of needing dental work. “I’ve found in my 40 years of practice that very few patients are afraid of the actual cleaning, but rather they don’t want to hear any bad news about their teeth or any dental problems they’ve acquired,” says Dr. Dodes. “Avoidance and denial are strong human emotions, which can play a role in why people don’t visit the dentist as often as they should.”

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