Fear of the dentist combated with cognitive behavior therapy

Scared girl at dentist

Many people have a fear of the dentist and new research found this can be combated with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). CBT can help reduce the use of sedatives for those who have a dentist phobia.


Anxiety and fear of the dentist are common but can affect a person’s life – they may avoid the dentist altogether, increasing the risk of oral infections and complications. One in 10 people in the UK are estimated to have a fear of the dentist, as reported in the Adult Dental Health Survey.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term form of therapy, typically lasting six to 10 sessions. CBT has been shown to help with a variety of psychological issues, such as depression or anxiety disorders.

In the latest study, researchers looked at characteristics of 130 patients who attended CBT and evaluated their outcomes. Patients were surveyed on their levels of dental anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol use and oral health-related quality of life.

Three-quarters of patients scored 19 or higher on the Modified Dental Anxiety Scale (MDAS), which indicates a dental phobia. The others scored high in one area, outlining a specific fear towards some aspect of dentistry. Nearly all patients reported problems with their oral health and its impact on their quality of life.

A group of the participants were found to have psychological conditions, such as anxiety, depression or even suicidal thoughts.

Eighty percent of patients were able to see the dentist and not require sedatives after CBT completion. The amount of sessions required for this was an average of five sessions.


Lead author, Professor Tim Newton, Ph.D., said, “People with dental phobia are most commonly given sedation to allow them to become relaxed enough for a short period of time to have their dental treatment performed. However this does not help them to overcome their fear in the long term. The primary goal of our CBT service is to enable patients to receive dental treatment without the need for sedation, by working with each individual patient to set goals according to their priorities. Our study shows that after on average five CBT sessions, most people can go on to be treated by the dentist without the need to be sedated.”

He concluded: “However, there is a need for people with dental phobia to be carefully assessed by trained CBT practitioners working with dental health professionals. Some of the patients referred to us were found to be experiencing additional psychological difficulties, and needed further referral and management. CBT provides a way of reducing the need for sedation in people with a phobia, but there will still be those who need sedation because they require urgent dental treatment or they are having particularly invasive treatments. Our service should be viewed as complementing sedation services rather than as an alternative, the two together providing a comprehensive care pathway for the ultimate benefit of patients.”


Author Bio

Mohan Garikiparithi got his degree in medicine from Osmania University (University of Health Sciences). He practiced clinical medicine for over a decade before he shifted his focus to the field of health communications. During his active practice he served as the head of the Dept. of Microbiology in a diagnostic centre in India. On a three-year communications program in Germany, Mohan developed a keen interest in German Medicine (Homoeopathy), and other alternative systems of medicine. He now advocates treating different medical conditions without the use of traditional drugs. An ardent squash player, Mohan believes in the importance of fitness and wellness.