Published: 01/15/2019

Up to 25% of the population has anxiety, or even a fear, of visiting the dentist for routine dental appointments. They avoid the dentist’s office at all costs, possibly making excuses for not keeping up with routine cleanings, such as saying “I don’t have the time”, “I don’t have dental insurance”, or even “I’ve been meaning to make an appointment”. At times, the fear gets so severe that people who fear the dentist make an appointment only when it gets to the point where it is absolutely necessary, such as when they have extreme pain that they can no longer tolerate. These people exhibit signs that include the following:

  • Crying or feelings of sickness, such as nausea when they think about their upcoming appointment.
  • Insomnia in the few days leading up to the appointment.
  • Trouble breathing during the appointment, or extreme feelings of unease.
  • Sweating, fast heart rate, and panicking the day of the appointment.
  • These signs get worse when on the way to the appointment, at which time they consider turning back, and when in the waiting room.

This is called dental anxiety, and it is not uncommon. Let’s take a deeper look into dental anxiety, and what our available options are so that we can make going to the dentist a much more comfortable experience.

What Causes Dental Anxiety?

dental procedure with sedation dentistry in play

Dental procedure working with sedation dentistry.

Fear of visiting the dentist can be caused by any number of things. It may be that the person feels that they have no control over what is going to happen during the appointment since communication is difficult. Or, perhaps it is due to a fear of pain. Some people even get dental anxiety because they don’t want a personal space such as their mouth examined. In some cases, it may be simply that some people feel “trapped” in a small space like a dental exam room. One of the most common reasons for dental anxiety is a previous painful experience at a dental appointment. Whatever the cause of the phobia is, dental anxiety should not keep anyone from visiting the dentist and maintaining the best oral health possible.

How Can I Self-Soothe in Preparation for My Upcoming Appointment?

Fortunately, there are self-soothing ways to prepare yourself for an upcoming dental appointment when you have anxiety. Always let the hygienist, the dentist, and anyone else who will be helping you at the appointment know about your concerns. Don’t be hesitant or embarrassed to talk to them about your anxiety. Remember, they are professionals who have treated many patients who have the same concerns. Other ways to self-soothe include the following:

  • Listen to music on headphones or an iPod during the appointment.
  • Bring along a stress ball, or something else that you can hold to release your anxiety.
  • Come up with a signal before the appointment begins, so that you can let the dental professional know if you need a break.
  • Bring a familiar friend or family member along to the appointment with you.

Anything else that works for you could be used as a method for self-soothing in preparation for a dental appointment. Use any relaxation techniques that you find helpful. Perhaps you can even schedule a massage immediately before your dental appointment so that you feel completely relaxed when you sit down in the chair! 

What are the Available Options for Calmer, More Comfortable Dental Work?

For those who have anxiety or fear regarding dental appointments, keep in mind that there are options available in order to ensure a more comfortable experience. Ask the dentist about pain control, such as topical anesthetics. Also, talk to the dental professional about options such as oral sedatives and nitrous oxide. Remember, the only way your dentist will know about your anxiety is through effective communication, so speak up! He or she is understanding and more than willing to do what it takes to help you feel as comfortable as possible, before, during, and after the appointment. 

Sedation Dentistry

Woman at the dental office having dental surgery under sedation dentistry.

Woman at the dental office having dental surgery.

One of the most popular options for those who experience dental anxiety is sedation dentistry. The use of medication helps ease the anxiety, with various levels of sedation, including:

  • Minimal, when the patient is slightly sedated and remains awake.
  • Moderate, when the patient is awake but more heavily sedated. In this particular case, not much is remembered about the appointment after it is over.
  • Deep, when the patient is still awake, but almost unconscious.
  • General anesthesia, when the patient is unconscious.

Sedation is typically suitable for anyone who has a fear of dental appointments that would otherwise cause them to neglect their oral health. You may be given oral sedation,  inhalation analgesia, also known as laughing gas, sedation through an IV, or general anesthesia. The type of sedation that is given typically depends upon the type of dental work that is needed as well as the patient’s general tolerance level for pain. Your dentist will provide instructions regarding the type of sedation that is ultimately chosen for you. Sedation dentistry is typically chosen by patients for some of the following reasons, including the following:

  • Those who have had a past traumatic dental experience.
  • Those who repeatedly put off going to the dentist due to their anxiety.
  • Patients with sensitive oral nerves.

Sedation dentistry is typically offered for procedures such as root canals, extractions, and implantations. Those patients who have an extreme fear of the procedures for routine care should speak to the dental professional about their anxiety.

Learn More About Sedation Dentistry

At Shore Smiles Dental, we understand that everyone has individual needs and concerns. We also understand that anxiety can be a sensitive issue. That is why we do everything that we can in order to make every patient as comfortable as possible, and reduce their anxiety. We will work with each patient in order to provide the best experience to meet their needs and to help maintain their oral health. We are dedicated to providing a welcoming environment for every patient that we work with. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, contact us today! 

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