Dental anxiety is a common fear among people and affects an estimated 36% of the population. Bad dental experiences can affect a person so strongly that they avoid the dentist either entirely or until there is a dental emergency. As general and pediatric dentists, it is our duty to provide oral healthcare in a safe, comfortable environment. Fortunately, dentistry nowadays isn’t like the old disturbing image of pulling teeth with no anesthesia. We are equipped with advanced technology and medication that can help our patients overcome their dental anxiety from previous bad dental experiences.
Advances in dental technology and techniques offer patients a stress-free visit.
You and your team can play a critical role in helping your patients overcome their dental anxiety from past bad dental experiences. By employing a few thoughtful techniques and being open in your dialogue, you’ll help your patients see you as a partner in their oral care journey. Here are a few options to try.
Sometimes a person can benefit from sedation to help them achieve their oral healthcare goals. You can get sedation for a range of procedures from a prophylaxis to a dental implant. The type of sedation is determined by your patient’s health history, the procedure type, and their preference. The three main types of sedation include:
Nitrous Oxide: Nitrous oxide is also known as laughing gas and is the least invasive form of sedation. It is administered by inhalation and can help reduce feelings of anxiety, fear, and even pain. Nitrous oxide is a conscious form of sedation, meaning a patient will not be asleep. The benefits of sedation are that the effects wear off quickly once a patient is placed on 100% oxygen at the end of their procedure.
Oral Sedation: Oral sedation is also a conscious sedation, but it is more potent than nitrous oxide. It is given before an invasive procedure to put a patient in a “twilight” feeling, and is administered by oral medication. It can make a patient drowsy and should be used with caution and dependent upon a patient’s medical history.
General Anesthesia: IV sedation, or general anesthesia, is recommended for patients with severe anxiety or who require an invasive procedure like full-mouth rehabilitation or dental implants. It is administered intravenously and is typically monitored by an anesthesiologist or oral surgeon. The patient is completely asleep and has no control of their own reflexes, which is why it is a beneficial, but serious form of sedation that should be used only when necessary.
Create a warm atmosphere.
A dental office has a particular smell, just like a new car has its specific scent. Some people get nervous just from the scent of a dental office and if they’ve had bad dental experiences in the past these smells can be that much more stress inducing. You want to create a comforting, relaxing environment for your patients so when they think of the dentist it is a reminder of happy thoughts.
There are numerous ways you can help your patients become comfortable at the dentist office. Some offices have televisions mounted to the ceiling or offer noise canceling headphones to block out drills and instrument sounds. Other great ways to create a comfortable atmosphere include:
- Choosing warm wall colors and decor.
- Offering a blanket or pillow.
- Offering a choice of toothpaste to clean teeth with.
- Dimming the lights for patients who are nervous.
- Playing relaxing and calming music.
- Ensuring privacy for patients who experience dental anxiety.
- Offering a warm towelette to cleanse hands before or after the procedure.
There are some patients who simply need medication to help them get through a dental visit, and that’s okay. After reviewing a patient’s medical history and discussing their concerns and fears, it may be warranted to prescribe anti-anxiety medication.
Taking medication hours before a dental visit can create a stress-free appointment for the patient. A common choice is diazepam (Valium), and it is ideal for an anxious, healthy adult because it has a short working life and lasts only about four hours. This can make your patient’s dental visits much more calm and they’ll be feeling back to normal in a few hours.
Many patients who have dental fear or anxiety from previous bad dental experiences report one of the major reasons for their nervousness is fear of the unknown. One of the best things you can do for your patient is walk them through the procedure in a comforting way. Speak with your patient about their concerns. Do they want to understand each step in detail? Or do they prefer to remain in the dark and not know of all the treatment steps?
Ensure your patient is able to ask all their questions and let them know they can email or call you with concerns prior to and after their dental visit. They will feel like a priority, and it may also alleviate significant stress knowing that they are in the driving seat of their own treatment plan.
Meditation and Breathing Exercises
People who have dental anxiety from previous bad dental experiences may benefit from stress-relieving exercises like yoga and meditation. Breathing exercises are helpful because it forces a person to focus on something positive and calms their nerves.
Practicing slow breathing can help slow a racing heart and decrease inflammation-causing stress, creating a calmer session. You should recommend exercises like this prior to dental visits, so if a patient is getting nervous in the office, they can practice this technique and gain a sense of peace.
It is very important to understand that dental anxiety is a real and common reaction for many patients. As healthcare providers, we should help our patients overcome any bad dental experiences and create a positive, uplifting view of dentistry. By doing so, we can create a better quality of life for our patients and ensure they have a long life of optimal oral health.
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