For people with anxiety, visits to the dental office can be distressing and even induce panic. Dental anxiety affects many people's willingness to make and keep dental appointments, leading to poor oral hygiene and neglected dental care.
Before considering dental work, it may be worth analyzing where your dental phobia stems from. Pinpointing exactly what makes your anxiety so extreme will make it easier to identify a dentist who offers the approach and specific techniques that will effectively calm your fear and anxiety.
1. Find a Dentist Who Understands Anxiety Disorders
There may be many reasons why you feel uncomfortable or fearful at the dentist. Severe anxiety can be a result of past trauma, special needs, or simply a strong aversion to the dental office environment. It is important to be able to address what exactly causes your dental fear so you can discuss it with your dentist and find a solution.
Possible Reasons for Dentophobia
Uncomfortable or Traumatic Experiences in the Past
Any medical procedure, be it at the dentist, doctor's surgery, or hospital, can potentially be distressing. The associations we make with the dentist—uncomfortable braces, memories of pain or discomfort, or anxiety before a procedure—only reinforce the idea that going for dental treatment is an unpleasant experience.
Unfortunately, some patients are further discouraged by bad experiences with unscrupulous dentists or botched procedures. That's why choosing a reputable cosmetic dentist is so important, and will go a long way to relieving the stress and anxiety associated with a dental appointment or procedure.
Anxiety Caused by Autism, Sensory Processing Disorders, or Social Anxiety
For patients with autism or sensory processing differences, visiting the dentist can involve so much sensory overload that they find something as routine as a teeth cleaning unbearable. The sound of the drill if fillings are needed can also cause severe discomfort.
Some people also avoid the dentist because routine checkups can be emotionally and physically uncomfortable. People who struggle with social anxiety disorders may find the experience of being surrounded by unknown people or being asked personal questions distressing.
Generalized Anxiety, Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Trust Issues
Dental visits are an exercise in trust; dentists are entrusted with complicated procedures when we are at our most vulnerable in the dental chair. For already anxious patients, this can feel overwhelming.
For patients with mood disorders, trauma, or trust issues, forming a strong dentist-patient relationship is critical for establishing trust. If you have a mood, trauma, or trust disorder, look for a dentist who clearly cares about your emotional as well as physical well-being.
2. Look for a Dentist Who Offers Sedation Dentistry
Though much can be done to try to reassure a patient before their appointment, sedation dentistry could be the best approach if you suffer from anxiety during dental visits.
Before booking any dental procedures, be sure to discuss your options with your dentist so they can use the right level of sedative for you, taking into account the nature of the procedure itself as well as your level of anxiety.
What Is Sedation Dentistry?
Sedation dentistry, or conscious sedation dentistry, involves mild sedatives that help patients relax during long or uncomfortable dental procedures. Dentists will usually discuss sedation options before a procedure, and the most appropriate sedative will be chosen according to your circumstances.
Sedatives are administered either intravenously or orally and leave you in a state of total relaxation while the procedure is being performed. This type of sedation, sometimes known as twilight anesthesia, doesn't leave you unconscious like in general anesthesia. However, you’re often left with little to no memory of the procedure, depending on the level of sedation used.
Light sedation is enough for patients who experience mild anxiety, and whose procedure is not particularly complex. You will be able to converse with the dentist and may have some memory of the experience.
In this slightly deeper form of twilight sedation, you will still be conscious but will have fewer memories of the procedure and may even sleep for periods during the operation. This level of sedation is typically used for longer or more complicated procedures.
This is the type of sedation that’s most commonly administered to those with severe dental anxiety. Deep sedation can also work effectively for patients undergoing multiple procedures such as the placing of several dental implants on the same day.
What Medications Are Used in Sedation Dentistry?
The medication your dentist will use depends on the procedure, and whether pain relief will also be needed. Intravenous drugs are often used due to their fast-acting effects and quick recovery time. However, nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, can also be used for less complex operations in which little pain relief is needed.
Nitrous oxide is a sedative in gas form used in some dental procedures. It is typically used for people who don't respond to local anesthetics and for children undergoing longer dental procedures.
Benzodiazepines are drugs that are administered intravenously. They reduce anxiety, make you feel relaxed and sleepy, and produce partial or total amnesia. Benzodiazepines are the medications that we use most frequently in our Beverly Hills dental spa.
Opioids are given to patients when they need more pain relief than can be offered by benzodiazepines. Examples of opioids include morphine and fentanyl.
3. Look for a Dentist Who’s Known for Being Compassionate and Understanding
With many possible reasons leading to severe dental anxiety in some patients, choosing a dentist who makes you feel safe, listened to, and who understands how you feel is the most important step you can take to overcome your fear, or at least reduce it to a bearable level. Compassionate dentistry is an approach used by some dental teams to make visiting the dentist a less daunting experience.
Teams that embrace compassionate dentistry take the following approach to treating anxious patients, with a view to making the dental environment a more comfortable—and less scary—place:
Taking time to listen to you and understand how you feel
Earning your trust
Explaining exactly what will happen during your procedure, using easy-to-understand language. You should know exactly what to expect when you leave the appointment.
Taking the time to answer any questions, doubts, or fears you may have
Showing you the tools that will be used during the procedure and explaining each one’s importance and function
Discussing the different treatment options with you to involve you in the process
Customizing your dental treatment, treating you as the individual you are
Following COVID-19 guidelines carefully to ensure the cleanest and healthiest environment for all
A compassionate approach goes a long way towards comforting and relaxing a nervous patient, and also makes the procedure more straightforward for the dentist, who will be able to concentrate better when you’re relaxed.
Dental Anxiety Can Affect Your Oral Health
For many people, dental anxiety is a mere inconvenience and one that, with the right mindset, can be overcome. However, for people with more severe dentophobia, their fear becomes a barrier to maintaining their oral health.
Studies on the effects of dental anxiety on oral health have found a strong correlation between patients with dentophobia and people suffering from decayed and missing teeth, fewer filled teeth, and gum problems. Solving dental anxiety, therefore, isn't just an emotional problem, but is also an important step for your long-term oral health.
Finding a Compassionate and Reputable Dentist Can Transform Your Experience of Dental Care
Though dental anxiety is fairly common, dentophobia that stops you from going to the dentist regularly or for necessary dental procedures must be addressed as soon as possible. Regular checkups are necessary for good oral health, not only to address existing problems but also to prevent more serious problems from developing in the future.
Finding a dentist who can help you with your anxiety is the first step towards overcoming your fear. Look for a dentist who understands your worries, takes the time to make you feel at ease, and can offer you a range of sedation options to get you through the procedure itself. Hopefully, you’ll soon feel not only comfortable but confident at the dentist’s office.