Some of you don’t like us, we get it. And for some of you there is a fear of dentists that means you avoid seeing us until things are really bad. Dental anxiety is quite common, and the unfortunate outcome is that simple problems turn into significant ones when they are not treated quickly enough.
A fear of the dentist is something that can stem from a challenging childhood experience, but many adults often find it hard to understand the origins of their dental anxiety. In many cases it can be distilled down to a loss of control.
When your teeth are being examined or worked on, it is normal to feel vulnerable, or be concerned about the anticipation of pain during the appointment. This manifests as physical tension, increased muscle tone and a general feeling that part of your brain is telling you to run, while the other part knows that you just need to get the necessary work completed. The unfortunate spiral that follows can lead to embarrassment or even shame about not being able to complete what you feel is a simple task. What is critical is finding a supportive team that understands and does not judge your dental anxiety and takes the time to provide options and solutions.
Fear of the dentist needs to be unpacked to a certain degree for each individual. This doesn’t mean that your dentist or their team becomes your counsellor, but being in an environment where you are comfortable enough to discuss your specific concerns is important.
Kind hearted dentists want to help people in a way that does not cause them anxiety and their team should provide a warm and welcoming environment.
“It’s the noise of the drill”
“My last dentist caused pain and didn’t seem to care”
“I can’t keep my jaw stretched open”
“I feel like I can’t breathe but don’t want to be difficult and ask to stop all the time”
“I feel embarrassed about the state of my teeth”
“I gag really easily”
“Make sure you tell me exactly what you are doing and when you do it so there are no surprises”
“Don’t tell me or show me anything, just get it done”
“I hate needles, don’t let me see it”
“I bet you have never seen teeth as bad as mine”
“I’m such a sook”
Many times each day, dentists will hear these concerns from patients. You can also see that a different approach may be needed for each person, and if a dentist makes some wrong assumptions, then the problem can be compounded.
Depending on the specifics of dental anxiety, relieving it can be achieved in a variety of ways. From a non-confrontational conversation, all the way to IV sedation dentistry or general anesthetic.
Getting a referral to a known kind and understanding dentist from a trusted friend or family member is often a good place to start.
Using headphones to block out noise during treatment is a great form of distraction and escapism. Watching the TV on the ceiling, or requesting your favourite show (aka Netflix and Fill) is another commonly used method to help you pretend you are somewhere else.
The feeling of being in control to reduce dental anxiety can be something as easy as indicating the need early in the appointment to stop more regularly to catch your breath, have a break or have a rinse where possible. A compassionate dentist may also ask “What can we do to make this appointment easier for you?”
There is also of course, pharmaceutical assistance. Some situations require a variety of sedation options to help people feel relaxed and calm enough to undergo dental work. This can range from a prescribed sedative tablet taken before the appointment, the use of Nitrous Oxide (happy gas) during the appointment or the use of more powerful IV sedation. This is also referred to as Conscious or Twilight sedation which means you are awake, but very relaxed and usually with reduced awareness or recollection of the process.
IV sedation is administered by an anesthetist or a dentist that is trained and accredited in sedation, while another dentist performs the dental work.
Any type of sedation requires you to be escorted to and from the appointment by a carer.
Many patients go on to overcome their fear of the dentist after having sedation, and are able to attend their regular dental appointments with increased trust and confidence. To manage dental anxiety, find a dentist you feel comfortable talking with, who can spend the time to adapt their treatment approach to suit your needs.