Dental anxiety is common. Most Americans have some degree of fear about visiting the dentist. Understanding the causes of dental anxiety can help people master their anxiety. And, of course, prevent it in the future. We work with our patients to help them feel more comfortable in our office, including the use of sedation dentistry to help you overcome your fear and get the treatment you need or desire.

Now a new study shows something you might already know: your siblings may be part of the reason why you are afraid of the dentist.

Blame Your Siblings for Dental Fear

Kids with Siblings Have More Fear

The study comes from Hong Kong, where researchers conducted surveys about dental fear among hundreds of schoolchildren. They then looked at how the structure of the kids’ families influenced the presence or level of fear.

Overall, about a third of kids (33.1%) reported having dental fear, with the average level of fear on the Childhood Fear Survey Schedule-Dental Subscale being 29.1. They found that kids with siblings were much more likely to have fear than those without siblings (37.0% vs. 24.1%), and they were more likely to report higher fear levels (29.9 vs. 27.4).

Although researchers caution that their results may not be generalizable outside of Hong Kong, it is actually easy to see how having siblings can make it more likely that you will be afraid of the dentist.

How Your Siblings Could Contribute to Your Fear

This study does not actually show us that other siblings cause dental fear, just that there is an association. But anyone who has siblings can probably identify the ways that brothers and sisters can make one more likely to fear the dentist. Here are a few common ways that can happen.

Vicarious Experience

Many people develop dental anxiety because of a bad childhood experience at the dentist. But that experience does not have to be yours. If you have siblings, the likelihood that you are familiar with a bad dental experience multiplies.


Another way that siblings can cause dental anxiety is by showing their own anxiety. When a brother or sister you look up to manifests a fear, you are more likely to develop that fear, too. And it can be even worse if this is an older sibling who you have trusted to help you overcome your own fears in the past.

Deliberate Teasing

Another thing siblings do is tease one another. Some of this involves playing on actual or potential fears, like the dentist. This means that once a child even begins to manifest dental fear, siblings will pick up on it and magnify it with teasing. This can take a small fear and turn it into a more serious fear.

Negative Reinforcement

Sometimes people develop dental anxiety because of a misguided attempt by siblings or parents to be helpful. When trying to make kids understand the importance of good oral hygiene, siblings (and parents) can sometimes use the dentist as a kind of bogeyman. The consequences of not brushing are more visits to the dentist and all the things the dentist will have to do to a kid’s teeth. The goal is noble, but the result is often damaging.

When kids who have been told this become adults, they sometimes avoid the dentist, especially when they have a dental problem. They are afraid of the treatment they are going to get.

We Can Help You Overcome Anxiety

The good news is that no matter the source of your dental anxiety, there is help to overcome it. Our office is a comfortable, welcoming environment that many people find more relaxing than other dentists they have seen. And we also offer sedation dentistry, including oral conscious sedation for people whose anxiety is even more serious. This can help you get the dental care you need to enjoy good oral health again.

If you would like to learn more about overcoming your fear of the dentist in St. Louis, please call (314) 678-7876 today for an appointment with dentist Dr. Chris Hill at City Smiles, with offices in both downtown St. Louis and Clayton, MO.