If just the thought of the dentist makes your stomach turn to knots and your heart race, you are not alone. It is estimated that nearly 75% of Americans have experienced dental anxiety at some point in their life, with approximately 10% of people having dental phobia so severe that they avoid dental treatment at all costs.

But what causes this dental fear?

There are many causes of this phobia.  One of the main reasons why dentists are so feared is because of the media.

Take a moment and think about the common stereotyped image of the dentist that has been created through outlets such as the Internet, books, cartoons, TV shows, films, and youtube videos.

Let me guess, the image probably has a masked man with crazy pointy utensils, glaring into the mouth of his patient as they look on in fear, trying not to scream… This idea of a dentist is unfair, and is one of the main reasons why many people experience dental anxiety.

The stereotype of the “scary” dentist is traced back to medieval paintings of barbers (who were the dentists of the time) holding up exotic tools as a horrified patient looked on. This idea of dentistry would be a frightful sight for anyone, especially hundreds of years ago. But dentistry has come a long way with technology and education. Dentists today are highly qualified in their skill. Although it may sound convenient, a patient can no longer visit a dentist and barber in the same visit.  In fact, today, many people visit their dentist and experience no pain or discomfort throughout major procedures. Unfortunately, over hundreds of years, the media is still portraying dentists as these monsters who project unneeded pain on their patients.

Two films particularly come to mind. The first is the 1976 film Marathon Man. In this film Lawrence Olivier plays a Nazi dentist who attempts to torture a young student, played by Dustin Hoffman, by “extracting” his teeth without an anesthetic. Watch the scene here: Marathon Man

Another example is found in the 1986 film adaptation of the dark comedy play, Little Shop of Horrors.  In the film, Steve Martin stars as a sadistic, nitrous oxide sniffing, pain loving dentist. Check out a scene from the film here: Little Shop of Horrors

Obviously, these two images would scare any adult, including myself, out of a dental visit. But kids too get subjected to images where dentists cause pain. One great example is from the children’s cartoon Anamaniacs. In this short clip, the three loveable characters attempt to extract a tooth from the evil Rasputin and save the Russian Czar from his trickery. Although fun-loving, the tools the characters use in order to extract the tooth as well as the fear Rasputin displays while the procedure takes place easily contributes to the negative stereotypes of dentists.  Check out the short cartoon here:  Anamaniacs

However, no matter how hard a dentist tries to combat the stereotyped image the media represents, one thing that I like to stress to all patients is that the only way to get over that fear is through the help and comfort of a knowledgeable, friendly, loving staff. At Jon Frankel Dentistry, we offer a complimentary consultations which allows you to tour the office and observe the soothing, relaxing spa-like atmosphere; meet Dr. Frankel and have your questions and concerns answered and addressed; and discuss different patient education options to meet your special dental health needs.

Through this experience, it is our hope to ease your anxiety about future dental visits and help you beat your dental phobia.