According to the Dental Fears Research Clinic run by the University of Washington-Seattle, an average of 6.5 percent of all Americans avoid the dentist completely due to fear of the dentist. Another 20 percent go to the dentist only when a problem forces them to go. Many of these people fear dentists because of prior experiences at a dental office.
What Leads to Dental Phobia
In one case, a man dreaded going to the dentist following a childhood experience with his family’s dentist. While undergoing a filling, the dentist warned the patient, then a fourteen-year-old boy, to keep his tongue out of the way or he would drill through it. Numbed by the anesthesia, the boy didn’t even realize that his tongue was moving around. The dentist did as he warned and drilled through the boy’s tongue, leaving a permanent scar. That led to a fear of dentists that still bothers this man almost 40 years later.
Another man relates the experience that led to his fear of the dentist. When just three years old, the man was pinned down by a dentist who was trying to examine him. The boy kept trying to get out of the seat, so the dentist called the dental hygienist to help hold the kid down. When the boy’s mother intervened, the dentist told her to leave the examine room. Now almost 20 years of age, that man still fears the dentist and has anxiety attacks whenever an appointment nears.
Two-thirds of patients who fear the dentist have had a bad experience with a dentist or dental procedure. For others, the fear stems from situations beyond any dentist’s control, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or past physical abuse. For these patients, being in a chair where a dentist and assistant hover over the patient is just too much to handle.
The truth is that most dentists do everything in their power to prevent patients from having bad experiences. The majority of dentists treat their patients with respect and the utmost in quality care. That doesn’t, however, assuage the fears millions face. For those patients, a dentist who specializes in dental phobia is the best solution.
Options for Patients with Dental Fear
The best thing for a fearful patient to do is become assertive at the beginning of the appointment. A good dentist will listen to your fears and concerns and work with you to manage them. If playing ocean sounds or music during your appointment works, you want a dentist who allows you to put in earbuds or noise canceling headphones. If you want to be told the truth about how much pain a procedure is going to cause, you want a dentist who does not sugarcoat the experience.
Some dentists set up treatment rooms that are nothing like the sterile, hospital-like environments of the past. There are dentists who cover entire walls with photographs of pleasing images like waterfalls and oceans. Others have rooms with fireplaces or fish tanks to calm and relax patients during treatments.
Sedation dentistry is ideal for patients with severe dental anxiety. The dentist administers an IV or oral sedative or administers nitrous oxide to help the patient relax and even sleep during the appointment. There are benefits to each.
- IV sedation involves the insertion of an IV needle so that the sedative is administered right into the blood stream. Not every dentist is approved for this form of sedation, so you should ask. The benefits are that the sedative is fast-acting and you won’t remember feeling any pain or discomfort.
- Oral sedation involves a pill that you take prior to the appointment. If the pill wears out during the procedure, it takes time for the next pill to take effect. After taking an oral sedative, it’s common for the patient to have some memories of the dental procedure, so it’s not a good choice if you don’t want to remember feeling pressure or even some discomfort while your teeth are worked on.
- Nitrous oxide is more commonly known as laughing gas. The gas is administered through your airways. It’s not a heavy sedative; it feels more like having a few drinks. This sensation helps you feel a little less anxious while the dentist works.
The American Dental Association provides a list of things to consider when choosing a dentist. Take time to ask the dental office if they offer sedation dentistry or take other steps to alleviate dental phobia. Dr. John Gallardo of Gallardo Periodontics and Implant Dentistry provides dental services in Miami. He completed advanced studies in dental implants and periodontics. To discuss your dental anxiety in Florida, call his office at (305) 447-1447.