Assignment: Dental Phobia

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Dental Phobia, as defined by Seligman, Hovey, Chacon, & Ollendick (2017), “is a persistent and excessive fear of dental stimuli and procedures that result in avoidance or significant distress.” Fear of the dentist is considered a developmentally normal fear in young children, but when it progresses to the point that it begins to impact the quality of life for the child, a diagnosis of dental phobia should be assessed for. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-V) classifies dental phobia as a specific phobia within blood-injection-injury (BII) phobia type (2013). It is important to note; however, that there is some discrepancy and discussion regarding its classification as evidence shows it has varying factors from a typical BII phobia.

Dental phobia presents itself in many ways, ranging from tantrums, excessive fidgeting, and even refusal of treatment (Sheligman et. al., 2017). In order to also be considered a phobia, and not just a fear, it must also be considered debilitating and shown to interfere with normal functioning (Flamez & Sheperis, 2015). This includes having an impact on a child’s health and possibly quality of life.

Three Factors

There are many factors to consider when looking at the reasons and causes for dental phobia. Most phobias are a result of direct and indirect learning experiences and most children grow out of them (Flamez & Sheperis, 2015). Dental phobia is no exception. Three factors that may contribute to the development of dental phobia is family/cultural beliefs, learned experiences, and media. Research shows anxiety, fear, and a painful experience associated with dental work is extremely common but that most children do not develop dental phobia because of it (Sheligman, et. al., 2017). It would appear that a painful experience early on with little positive exposure lays the foundation for potential dental phobia. In addition, the beliefs held by family and the surrounding culture plays a role as well (Sheligman, et. al., 2017). Parents or older siblings that have anxiety and fear regarding the dentist are likely to impact young children who may already have trepidation about such an experience. In addition, children in lower economic status tend to have higher rates of dental anxiety and fear, with a direct correlation being made to higher levels of dental issues such as tooth decay (Sheligman, et. al., 2017). This results in greater levels of painful experiences, which contributes to the development of a dental phobia. While little research exists with regard to the impact of media on dental phobia, it is not uncommon to find horror movies depicting the dentist as a sort of torture experience. Such exposure, especially is a young child, can contribute to conditioning the child with regard to beliefs about dental experiences.

Helping Parents

With research indicating that the number one contributing factor to dental phobia being painful and/or traumatizing direct experiences at an early age, parents play a large role in helping mitigate this phobia. Providing proper emotional support and encouragement, helping to educate and prepare the child for what to expect, and working through any anxiety or post-experience trauma can help a child understand, accept, process, and move through a negative experience. As a professional counselor, one way I could help parents who have a child already exhibiting signs of dental phobia would be to offer services to the child as well as the family. By helping equip the child and the parents with anxiety-reducing techniques, exposure therapy, and psychoeducation, I can help the family as a whole work together to help the child reduce and/or eliminate any dental related anxiety.


American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental

disorders(5 ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Burnham, J. J. (2009). Contemporary fears of children and adolescents: Coping and resiliency in the 21st Century. Journal of Counseling and Development, 87(1), 28–35. Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Flamez, B. & Sheperis, C. J. (2015). Diagnosing and treating children and adolescents: A guide for clinical and school settings. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Seligman, L. D.,

Hovey, J. D., Chacon, K., & Ollendick, T. H. (2017). Dental anxiety: An understudied problem in youth. Clinical Psychology Review, 55, 25–40. https://doi

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Required Resources

Learning Resources

Please read and view (where applicable) the following Learning Resources before you complete this week’s assignments.


· Flamez, B. & Sheperis, C. J. (2015). Diagnosing and treating children and adolescents: A guide for clinical and school settings. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  • Chapter 3 “Developing and        Evaluating Client Treatment Plans”
  • Chapter 10 “Anxiety        Disorders”
  • Burnham, J. J. (2009). Contemporary      fears of children and adolescents: Coping and resiliency in the 21st      Century. Journal of Counseling and Development, 87(1),      28–35.
    Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.
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