How do you feel about a trip to the dentist? Are you comfortable with your approaching appointment or do you turn into a nervous Nellie at the thought? Do you find that even anti-anxiety meds increase your anxiety? Well, take some strength in knowing you’re not alone. Studies show that some 15% of people in need of dental care dread going to get it, especially if they’re facing a procedure they haven’t experienced before. The mental paralysis is so deeply rooted that even when they’re facing a step-by-step duplicate of a past procedure, simply imagining the grim setting can stir up a round of panic.
Today, dental phobia is considered a more debilitating condition than mere anxiety. It leaves sufferers hopelessly panic-stricken and terrified. They may be aware that such notions are irrational, but are unable to do anything about it. A classic dentaphobe, as the syndrome is called nowadays, is overwhelmed by a primitive flight-or-fight syndrome, triggered by nothing more than the thought of a dentist and his imprisoning chair. He or she will do anything to avoid it, including crossing the street. Worse, dental phobia can effectively block some people from subjecting themselves to any kind of dental treatment, starting with simple tooth-cleansing. Obviously, that level of fear can have lasting, wide-ranging consequences, not only on one’s teeth and gums, but on overall daily life and physical (never mind mental) health.
Over the years I’ve encountered countless manifestations of such states of panic. It would be tempting to think that simply telling fearful patients that they have nothing to fear would solve their problem—that given current dental technology and methodology, there’s no real basis for the intensity of their apprehension. Nerve-soothing chairside technique and pain-dampening equipment are state of the art in our practice, and we’re well-versed in using them. Uncomfortable procedures of the past are now at worst mildly uncomfortable. Indeed, many are pain free. So—problem solved—onward to the chair.
But not so fast there. Experience has shown that the successful route to mitigation of such fear is for the patient-to-be and his soon-to-be friendly dentist (me) to sit down together for a chat (nowhere near the exam room) that allows him to get to know (shift locale) me, and for me to listen to what the dimensions of his specific fears entail. We can then sketch out a treatment plan that addresses his dentaphobic paralysis, progressively airing out anti-dentistry issues on a timeline that’s comfortable for him.
If you or someone you love struggles with dental anxiety or phobia, please check out this list of fears we have encountered over the years, along with solutions we’ve used effectively to help anxious patients conquer those fears:
- Lying fully back in the dental chair can be physically or psychologically uncomfortable for some patients. If you are uncomfortable, let us know. We can remedy the situation by simply adjusting the chair.
- Noisy dental tools can stir up fear in some patients. We suggest that noise-sensitive patients to bring earbuds and phone or ipod to listen alternatively to music, books, comedy or even white sound. In fact, we encourage you to bring them along.
- A sensitive gag reflex is almost guaranteed to make you fear and loathe dental X-rays and other gag-inducing procedures. We offer panoramic X-rays that eliminate the problem of uncomfortable x-ray tabs at the back of your mouth.
- If you generally breathe through your mouth, due to allergies, medical issues or simply preference, you may feel uncomfortable or stifled by dental procedures that only allow you to breathe through your nose. We provide nasal strips to open nasal breathing passages.
- Dental equipment can sometimes scare patients, especially that tray covered with pointy foreign objects that we always seem to want to stick in your mouth. The staff and I are happy to take minute or two to familiarize you with tools we are using. Feel free to ask.
- Hypnosis can be also used as an adjunct or alternative to sedation to help induce relaxation and alleviate pain, anxiety, and stress. It can also help decrease dosage amounts of sedatives if and when they are needed. Some additional applications of hypnosis in dentistry include controlling a strong gag reflex, treating chronic facial pain, modifying unwanted habits such as bruxism or teeth grinding, and more. We can provide information on local hypnotists if you are interested.
- Alternatively, we might suggest nitrous oxide as one of the tools in our armamentarium which allows you to both breathe more easily – and to relax.
- Of course, practicing prevention is still the number one way to avoid having to have scary procedures done at the dentist. If you know that you’re someone who’s fearful about the dentist, be extra-attentive about oral care. At Leland Dental we’re only too happy to be able to report an A+ on an oral exam. In fact, we’re aces with excellent oral health and fewer dental catastrophes.