Individuals may put off dental care for a variety of reasons, including financial difficulties, a lack of insurance, or an inability to travel to an appointment. Other people may not understand their treatment options, or fully realize the importance of following the advice of a dental professional. Anxiety or a phobia of receiving dental care is one of the most common reasons, and up to 20 percent of patients who avoid trips to the dentist cited dental fear as the sole cause of not seeking treatment. Fortunately, the dental industry is recognizing how common dental anxiety is, and has developed a variety of sedation techniques to help allay patient fears.
Because of the importance of routine dental care for overall health, dentists want to encourage patients to attend regular appointments by making visits as stress-free and comfortable as possible. Beyond early detection of dental problems such as gum disease, infection, and oral bone loss, poor dental hygiene may also lead to heart disease and an increased risk of strokes. Dentists also routinely check for oral cancer – which might otherwise go undetected.
Dental anxiety can be caused by a variety of circumstances, but is often due to the anticipation of pain, either involving the big scary needles associated with the “numbing” process, or the procedure itself. Older patients may have endured unduly painful treatments before the advent of “pain free” dental techniques. Feeling helpless or not in control can also cause dental anxiety, and in extreme cases, a phobia of dental care.
Symptoms of dental anxiety may include: excessive worry or difficulty sleeping leading up to the procedure, nausea, vomiting, sweating, rapid breathing, or even a full-blown panic attack. Despite the severity of these symptoms in some patients, there are several successful treatments available.
Many anxious patients respond well to the range of medications currently employed by sedation dentists. Although local anesthetics may be needed during potentially painful procedures, the injection is generally given after a sedative has been administered. Oral sedatives can be given to patients prior to appointments, and IV sedation is also used during procedures. Nitrous oxide gas is another tool that is used in sedation dentistry, and gives the patient a relaxed and calm feeling when inhaled. When a patient is experiencing acute anxiety or must undergo extensive surgery, a general anesthetic may be the best option.
Alternative or supplementary options for treatment of dental anxiety include: relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and positive visualization, hypnotherapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy for those suffering extreme phobic reactions. Patients experiencing anxiety should discuss with their dentists which treatment alternatives can best ensure a pain-free, relaxing experience while in the dental chair.