Improving oral health and taking preventative measures to avoid dental issues require regular
visits to a dentist. It’s essential now that we know diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other illnesses can result from gum disease. Staying on top of dental visits is crucial, even if your smile may seem to look clean and in excellent shape.
Seeking proper care can be challenging for many patients because of fear of the dentist. Dental anxiety, or otherwise known as dental fear or dental anxiety, is a common issue for many people. It results in delayed dental treatments. Dentists have reported witnessing the same recurring cases throughout their practice. And the worst part about dental fear or anxiety? It often leads to a problematic and traumatic experience from what was only an irrational fear.
Why Do People Fear Visits To The Dentist?
Going to the dentist is beneficial to a person’s health. So, why do most people fear dental visits? Here are the most reported causes of dental anxiety:
- Pain – The number one reason most patients refuse to go to a dental clinic is that they’re afraid of the pain that’s associated with a dental procedure. For instance, root canals have obtained the reputation of being so painful. In reality, though, the fear of the actual treatment most people feel is often associated with toothache. This is because the majority of patients report that treatments were significantly much less painful than anticipated after the surgery.
- Bad experiences in the past – An unpleasant dental visit as a young adult or as a child is another reason most people fear a dental visit. It can be due to an inexperienced or unsympathetic dentist, or an unexpected pain brought by a dental procedure.
The good news is that most procedures have become more convenient and faster due to advances in technology. Some are even painless. Because of innovations, dental practices have become more relaxing. Drills are quieter, and anesthesia is more convenient to administer these days too. One will, no doubt, be surprised in terms of how far dental surgeries have become more advanced. It’s especially true if one has not been to a dental clinic for a while.
- Fear of lack of control – Major contributors to dental anxiety also include a lack of knowledge of what’s going on and difficulty communicating during procedures. That’s because many patients fear a lack of control. Abating fears during a dental visit requires adequate planning and proper communication with the dentist.
So, what can people do to combat these fears? The following helpful strategies can make nervous dental patients sit comfortably and at ease in a dental chair:
1. Using Relaxation Techniques And Procedures
Deep breathing exercises and muscle relaxation can sometimes be adequate to diminish fear among dental patients. These are known as relaxation techniques. They can help an individual relax while sitting in the dentist’s chair. Psychologists can even help reduce anxiety and phobias by using a process that they call systematic desensitization. The patient is gradually exposed to his or her fear through this method. The end goal is for that person to be able to face or combat his or her anxiety without assistance later.
Oral conscious sedation or anxiolysis is another method that can be employed. This strategy helps patients feel relaxed when undergoing dental procedures. Note that anxiolysis only helps you relax and doesn’t make you sleep.
Oral conscious sedation medication or technique works hand in hand with the use of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas or happy gas in dentistry. Nitrous gas can also help patients relax during dental treatment. In this case, the dentist allows the person to breathe in a combination of oxygen and nitrous oxide by fitting a mask to his or her face. The happy gas only takes minutes to take effect, but it also wears off quickly.
What’s good about anxiolysis and the use of nitrous oxide is that the patient will feel relaxed without being forced to go to sleep. He or she can still hear what the dentist tells them and respond accordingly.
2. Meeting With The Dentist In Advance
Another way to help reduce anxiety in dental patients is to let them research and find a dentist on their own. This way, they can decide to whom they’ll entrust their dental health. It will also ensure that they’ll have the most comfortable option. If a person feels a sense of comfort and trust with the chosen dentist, going to a dental clinic will be a bit easier for them.
Note that it’s a good idea to set up a dentist appointment immediately after the patient finds a dental clinic he or she likes. It can be done even before having any work done. Many dental clinics offer a complimentary initial consultation, and that’s something a nervous or anxious patient shouldn’t miss. A person set to undergo a dental treatment can meet the dentist and make sure their personalities fit by scheduling an advanced consultation. It eases stress significantly.
During the consultation, patients will know what treatment they’ll get, why the procedure is worth it, what the results should be, and how long it will take to finish.
3. Open Communication
During the initial visit, the patient needs to communicate openly. The dentist should also be willing to listen carefully to the questions and statements of patients.
The patient must talk about his or her anxiety. Most dental teams are encouraging and sympathetic because they’re trained to help ease anxiety.
Dentists should ask patients what exactly makes them feel anxious or nervous. Dental professionals should also try to be as empathetic as possible from the start.
Questions that may be asked by dental professionals include:
- Are you scared of the sound of a drill?
- Does the needle frighten you?
- Are you worried that you’ll be in more pain than expected if the anesthesia wears off too soon?
Answers to these questions will help dentists direct how each visit should go. Planning out future visits based on the patient’s needs also becomes easier for them.
4. Maximizing Patient Comfort
This part is where dentists play a significant role. Dental clinics should assist patient comfort by offering dental anxiety management options like relaxing music (allowing patients to choose the songs in some cases), warm blankets, and aromatherapy. Noise-canceling headphones and on-demand video services can also help.
For patients, it’s essential to choose a dentist who allows or offers anxiety-reducing tools while the treatment is taking place.
5. Sensory-Adapted Environment (SDE)
Speaking of comfort-assist tools, a recent development in this aspect involves the utilization of an SDE or sensory-adapted dental environment.
Dental clinics employing this technique ensure that their treatment areas and even waiting rooms utilize structure and decor that consider all the five human senses. SDE helps prevent patients from developing a higher level of anxiety because of the environment.
Three specific features of sensory-adapted dental environments or the ‘Snoezelen environment’ are deep pressure massage, vibroacoustic stimuli, and lighting effects in a room with partially dimmed lights.
Pediatric dental patients are the ones that benefit more from SDE. However, sensory-adapted dental environments go a long way in easing anxiety, which means they also work in general applications.
6. Taking Anxiety-Relief Medication
When talking about long-term dental anxiety management strategies, over-the-counter medications aren’t recommended because of the possible side effects they cause over time. However, one can’t deny the fact that they can help (at least temporarily) alleviate anxiety. So, when other options have failed, go for anxiety-relief medication instead, but remember that the doctor should recommend the same.
Valium or diazepam is one of the most common medications that experts suggest for anxious dental patients. The patient takes one dose of valium the night before the visit and another about an hour before undertaking the treatment. Other anxiety-relief medications like Halcion may also work.
It’s essential to note that a comprehensive review of family and medical history is necessary before taking over-the-counter medications for anxiety since most of them come with many drug contraindications and interactions.
7. Assure Patients During The Procedure
Dentists should always ask the patient’s permission before proceeding. They also shouldn’t forget to take the patients’ emotions into account by informing them about the procedure step-by-step. This is why communication is an important aspect of cultivating trust between patients and doctors. The patient should be able to express when something provokes their fear or causes them pain or discomfort. Nonverbal cues also play a vital role in this area.
Dentists shouldn’t push doing anything that distresses patients. Doing so will only add to the bad impression the patient already has when it comes to dental work.
Most people get distressed at the thought of going to the dentist and often feel uneasy upon seeing dental tools. Moreover, having someone check your mouth and examine it intently isn’t exactly a fun activity. However, the fact that dental visits are essential cannot be discounted. When anxiety gets in the way of improving one’s dental health, the discussed strategies can help, depending on the patient’s needs.