The causes of dental anxiety and dental phobia are quite varied. Researchers have found a few common factors, including:
Pain -- Not surprisingly, fear of pain is one of the leading causes of dental phobia. Six percent of people who have not seen a dentist in 12 months said that their fear of pain was the reason. This response was most common in adults 24 years or older, leading experts to believe these individuals were deeply affected by early dental experiences (before many of today's "pain-free" dentistry practices were in place).
Embarrassment -- It's easy to forget just how intimate a part of the body your mouth is until there's a stranger peaking inside. Then you remember ... big time! Embarrassment ranks high among the causes of dental anxiety and dental phobia. Fact is many people are embarrassed or ashamed by the highly personal nature of a dental exam. This problem can be exacerbated if they're self-conscious about the appearance of their teeth or are uncomfortable with the dentist's face hovering so near to their own.
Loss of Control -- Mental health professionals know that it's common for people to develop phobias about situations in which they feel helpless or lack control. For these individuals, the combination of factors associated with a dental exam (e.g. lying flat in a fully reclined dentist's chair with a bright light shining in their eyes), can trigger a full-blown panic attack.
A Bad Appointment or Two -- It doesn't take a lot to make some people scared of dentists. A few negative experiences at the dentist's office -- especially if the patient is a child -- is listed among the most common causes of dental anxiety. Unfortunately, it's relatively easy for many people to extrapolate the pain or discomfort of a past dental procedure into the scenario for all future appointments.