How do you feel about making a dental appointment? That may sound like an odd question but for between ten and thirty percent of Americans, anxiety about dental treatment and embarrassment about the anxiety – are major obstacles to overcome. Although nobody really enjoys dental treatment, if anxiety or phobia is contributing to chronic, untreated dental problems then you should know that your dentist understands why this happens. There is hope and treatment that can help make scheduling and showing up for that dental appointment less traumatic.
A history of one or more unpleasant experiences or perhaps even something unexplained may contribute to their fears, which might range from a mild nervous feeling to excessive fear, complete with a range of physical symptoms that can include nausea, tremors and dizziness. Unfortunately, too many people in this situation manage their anxiety by avoiding the dental office – and treatment that they know they need – altogether. The result of long term dental neglect can be serious, painful and expensive… but also unnecessary. There are many solutions available for to treat dental anxiety so that it does not interfere with your good health.
Often dental anxiety is directly related to fear of not having control over what happens to you, which can be triggered simply by being placed in a physically vulnerable position such as lying flat on your back with someone’s hands in around your face. A simple and very effective way to manage this kind of anxiety is to simply discuss your feelings with your dentist, who will reassure you that you are in charge of your appointment. Sometimes, just knowing that the dentist or hygienist will not proceed with treatment if you are uncomfortable can alleviate anxiety and make treatment tolerable.
Many patients have learned to successfully manage mild to moderate anxiety by using their favorite music on an I-pod or CD player as a distraction; others have sought relief through learning mediation and relaxation techniques, and research suggests that hypnosis may be a promising treatment.
When dental anxiety or dental phobia is severe, there are several medical options that your dentist may offer. Nitrous Oxide, or “laughing gas” is a colorless and odorless gas, commonly available at the dentist’s office. The relaxing, sedative effects begin working almost instantly as they are breathed in, and leave the body within a few minutes after removing the nose mask. Patients remain completely conscious and in-control throughout the procedure but without anxiety and no long lasting effects.
Alternatively, some patients benefit from “conscious sedation” in which sedative medications are prescribed by the dentist or a physician; this method is frequently used in pediatric (children’s) dental offices but is also used to help anxious adults. Usually such medications are taken at the dental office before treatment begins, and in some cases they may be delivered intravenously. Conscious sedation makes patients feel comfortable and sleepy without falling asleep; but unlike being “knocked out” with general anesthesia, they continue to breathe on their own and can interact with the dental team. Patients may also opt for an oral anti-anxiety medicine that they can take at home, which has a less profound physical effect. Both situations require that someone accompany the patient to their appointment and drive them home afterward, because they may still be feeling the effect of the drug.
Technology has its’ place in helping manage dental anxiety as well, and can be a good solution for patients who would prefer not to take medications. Many people are actually more anxious about needles and injections than they are about dental treatment, and for those patients a painless injection system may be the answer to their concerns. Another wonderful advancement, lasers have been used in dentistry for surgery, fillings and other procedures since about 1994. When a laser is used, often bleeding, swelling and pain are dramatically reduced and depending on the procedure to be performed, little or no anesthetic may be necessary. Lasers have the additional benefit that they do not emit the high pitched whine of the dental drill – a sound that invokes anxiety and sets many patients’ “teeth on edge” so to speak. Speaking of unpleasant, sounds, researchers in London have recently developed an entirely silent dental drill. The device, which plugs into an MP3 player, actually cancels out that whining sound and as a result, patients feel more comfortable and less fearful.
Ultimately one of the easiest and most painless things that you can do to alleviate anxiety is to prevent dental problems altogether- as always, the keys are good homecare techniques, professional advice and regular checkups that allow the dentist to identify problems when they are small and easily treated…
So how do you feel about scheduling that overdue appointment? Talk to us, and let us help find a solution that will make it easier. Have you have had an experience with one or more anxiety-reducing technique or product? We would like to hear about it. What has worked for you, and what might you like to try in the future?