Sometimes, dental fear is like a contagious disease, passed from grandparents to parents to children, says Robert Brei, D.D.S.

Dr. Brei would know. He has been practicing cosmetic and general dentistry in Tucson, AZ for more than 25 years, located at Swan Road and Camp Lowell Drive.

Through the years, Dr. Brei has watched generation after generation of patients come through the door. One thing that hasn’t changed: fear of the dentist.

Very commonly, the fear has been instilled by someone else—a friend, sibling, parent, or even grandma. “A sibling will say, ‘If you go to the dentist, you’ll have to get a shot,’ or ‘I hate the dentist.’ Parents have also been known to use the dentist as a form of punishment,” he says. “Some will tell a child, ‘If you’re not good, you’ll have to go to the dentist.’”

What can a dentist do to help patients get over the hump? The first step, Dr. Brei says, is figuring out where the fear comes from. Naturally, they are afraid of being hurt. But there are other fears—of being unable to breathe, of leaving mommy, being hurt by a previous dentist—even something as seemingly harmless as the dentist’s glove. It’s the fear of the unknown.

Sometimes, just talking about what scares them will ease their minds, he says. Gentleness and compassion also go a long way. “It’s understanding, kindness, love—taking the time to find out who they are, and simply knowing how to perform procedures so they do not hurt.”

Dr. Brei helps his patients get comfortable. The next step might be anxiety-reducing medication, such as Valium, or, if all else fails, sedation. But Dr. Brei says he’d rather avoid that and change their feelings by gaining trust and renewing their faith that he is not going to hurt them. “Patients need those coping skills for the rest of their lives.”

If you are afraid of the dentist, Dr. Brei suggests the following:

  • Talk frequently about teeth and the importance of dental health. Familiarity fights fears. Learn that maintaining your teeth will avoid dental procedures.
  • Practice brushing your teeth while lying down. Sounds weird, but as Dr. Brei explains, “People are sometimes afraid to lie down when they come to the dentist, because they’re afraid they’re going to choke or that they are confined.”
  • For children, you can practice role-playing. Take turns being the dentist. A simple game: counting teeth.
  • Don’t tease or threaten a child about going to the dentist.
  • Inform the dentist if you are afraid of something specific, such as loud noises, sensitivity, or needles, so that Dr. Brei and his team can prepare accordingly and make it an enjoyable experience.