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Scared of the Dentist? How to Deal with Dental Anxiety

Unfortunately, this fear so paralyzes some people that they skip dental appointments altogether for years on end. Once they gather the courage to make an appointment, their teeth require more attention than a patient who keeps regular cleanings, and the very thing they feared becomes a reality.

We understand that having someone you barely know probing about your mouth is awkward at best. But for those who live with dental anxiety, it goes beyond a feeling of discomfort. In fact, some people are truly fearful of the dentist.

It’s a vicious cycle. While the root causes of the fears might vary, they are genuine concerns to those who suffer from anxiety.

Do you think you suffer from dental anxiety? You’re not alone! It’s a common, well-documented phobia, and over 30 million people worldwide suffer from it.

What is Dental Anxiety Disorder?

Dental anxiety disorder is a term that describes intense feelings of fear or stress in a dental office. Patients often recognize that the fear is irrational; yet, they cannot control it.

As described above, they most often deal with dental anxiety disorder by skipping all dental treatments.

Patients with this type of anxiety may have it as a stand-alone phobia. However, many also suffer from other conditions such as OCD, PTSD, or general anxiety disorder.

Top 5 Signs of Dental Anxiety

If you suffer from any of the indicators below at the thought of visiting the dentist, you might suffer from dental anxiety:

  • Heart palpitations/heart racing
  • Sweaty palms
  • Fainting or drop in blood pressure
  • Crying
  • Feeling hostile about the dentist or dental office staff

What Causes Fear of the Dentist?

While no one thing that causes fear of the dentist, there are several common themes that we hear in our practice that cause anxiety to escalate.

  • Previous bad experiences at the dentist (or another doctor)
  • A past traumatic injury to the head or neck
  • Fear of having personal space invaded
  • Reluctance to trust your safety to other people
  • Fearfulness when not in control of a situation

What Can Your Dentist Do to Help You Overcome Your Fear?

Regardless of your fears, you recognize that you need to see the dentist to achieve a pearly white smile. Be open with the dental staff about your anxiety. Most dentists will gladly structure a treatment plan around your concerns, so you can receive the treatment that you need.

First off, the best dentist is one that wants you to experience positive outcomes at the dentist. This will help you build trust and reduce future anxiety. They will strive to make you comfortable and address your fears with empathy.

In addition to being empathetic to you, your dentist can offer you twilight sedation. This is light sedation that calms you for your procedure. Some of the techniques dentists will use include the following:

Nitrous oxide: Also knows as laughing gas or happy gas, you breathe this gas through a mask for several minutes before your treatment. You will rapidly fall into an awake but relaxed state. The dentist might speak to you to ensure you’re comfortable during the procedure, but you will not likely remember the discussion afterward. Nitrous oxide wears off rather quickly, and you won’t have long-lasting side effects.

Oral anxiolytics: The dental office might also schedule you to come in an hour earlier than your procedure to administer oral anxiolytic tablets or pill sedation. Taking this prescription medication an hour in advance will put you under light sedation that will put you into a light sleep. You won’t be able to converse with the dentist and won’t remember the procedure afterward.

Intravenous conscious sedation: Your dentist can start an IV and slowly drip medication to keep you very lightly sedated during your treatment. The level of sedation is a semi-conscious state in which you might fall asleep for a light nap.

General anesthesia: Less commonly, you might be lucky enough to find a dentist who can administer intravenous general anesthesia. This is often reserved for the most fearful patients or treatments that require the most work. Some dentists perform this in outpatient surgery centers, and others have arrangements to have anesthesiologists work directly in the dental office.

Available treatment options will vary from one practice to the next but do feel free to ask your dentist about their availability.

Keep in mind that even light sedatives can make you feel groggy for a short while after your treatment. We recommend that you schedule your appointment for late in the day, so you don’t need to return to work. Also, plan to have a friend drive you home as you probably won’t be able to operate a vehicle safely.

The Takeaway

Thousands of patients suffer from dental anxiety disorder. While your dentist can’t undo the factors that brought about your anxiety, she can help you achieve a positive experience and put you at ease and help you get back on track at the dentist through sedation dentistry to alleviate your worst fears. The team at Houston Dental Implants has successfully treated hundreds of patients who share your anxiety. Schedule an appointment with us today, we want to help you.

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Meet Dr. Gregory

Dr. Holly J. Gregory practices a full scope of periodontics with expertise ranging from dental implants to laser periodontal treatments, gum grafting, and Dr. Gregory can correct a wide variety of periodontal (gum) disease.
Our office is located at 19502 McKay Blvd., Suite 202, Humble, TX 77338. Call us today at (281) 816-4707.

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