Dental Anxiety and the Drill

Most patients report the drill as being the main ‘fear’ factor.

Given that around half the population of the UK who visit a dentist experience some degree of anxiety, it isn’t surprising that, at Arthur House Dental Care in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, we see our fair share too. Whilst a calm manner and a friendly smile can make life easier for some, we do respect that, for some people, the anxiety can be quite severe and for these people we offer sedation if required.

What though is the main cause of this anxiety? Researchers have just announced a study which shows that the biggest trigger for the anxiety appears to be the dental drill.

The sound of the drill it seems, is the main cause of the pounding heart and cold sweats which some people experience in the treatment room.


Japanese researchers have recently taken brain scans of individuals whilst playing to them various sounds that they would experience at a dental practice, such as the movement of the chair, the clinking of the instruments on the tray, the suction equipment and, of course, the drill itself.

The results showed significant differences between those who were calm about the prospect of visiting the dentist and those for whom it was their worst nightmare.

No visual or audio responses were recorded to avoid interpretations being put upon these reactions; just the results of the brain scans were recorded for scientific accuracy.

Those who were deemed to be relaxed about dental visits showed, perhaps unsurprisingly, less brain activity upon hearing dental sounds than was noted in the ‘anxious’ group. It was noted that in the ‘anxious’ group, a surge of activity appeared in the region of the brain called the left caudate nucleus rather that the auditory area where it was expected to appear. It is thought that the left caudate nucleus is the area of the brain where sounds are learned and remembered. This would indicate then, that the fear is being stored in this area and is then readily available to be recalled each time the person hears these sounds again and it is this which gives rise to the anxiety.

Learned Behaviour

It is hoped that these findings will be useful for therapists who are trying to help patients overcome this fear, allowing them to focus on learned memory and its recall.

Studies have indicated too that severe anxiety about dental visits in children usually occurs when the parents have similar emotions. We all know that children do pick up on their parents habits, both good and bad, so it should not perhaps surprise us that this is the case.

This fear in children though should be of concern to the parents. By avoiding visits to the dentist, in reality all that you are doing is storing up problems for the future. What may have simply needed a tiny filling if detected in the early stages is likely to lead to significantly more invasive treatment, whether this be root canal treatment or worse, an extraction.

All is not lost though and at our Sutton Coldfield dental practice in Birmingham, we offer a pleasant and friendly dental environment with staff that are sympathetic to nervous patients and will do all that we can to put you at ease.

If you are anxious about visiting the dentist, call us on 0121 323 4492 to discuss what we can do for you, whether that may just be simple reassurance or possibly conscious sedation to keep you relaxed throughout any procedure that you may need.