Dental anxiety is a feeling of nervousness about visiting a dentist. Dental anxiety is quite common and has different stages effecting people from all ages. It can become a barrier to having the dental treatment you need.
Dental anxiety can vary from mild nervousness to severe phobia. People who suffer from dental phobia might have fear of dentist needles, drills or having someone getting so close to them. They might have unpleasant childhood memories at the dentist.
Despite experiencing dental anxiety, people can overcome their fears through different methods and techniques.
Asking for help
The first thing to do is to contact a dentist and talk to them about your dental anxiety. At the time of booking, explain to the team that you are an anxious patient so they can prepare and provide the support you need at the time you attend the appointment.
If you are not registered with a dentist, or wish to see a dentist with a track record of dealing with anxious patients, ask for recommendations from colleagues, friends or family. Word of mouth is the best way, as others might have had the same problems as you.
The first appointment with a dentist for an anxious patient is about meeting the dentist, talking about the anxiety and discussing what type of support you can get. Some dentists might see you in a different room than the normal surgery room. A supporting dentist and the trust you develop in the dentist can reduce your anxiety.
The support a dentist can provide includes granting you control over the timing of the sessions; control the amount of treatment, and to express your anxiety by talking about it. There are a number of options that help you relax, and the dentist can explain them to you, including sedation.
If your dental phobia is severe and you cannot consider visiting a dentist you might ask for help from your GP, they can recommend you to cognitive behavioural therapy.
The sedation helps you to relax and remove anxiety. If you opt for oral or intravenous sedation, make sure you have an adult accompanying you. Sedation temporarily affects your co-ordination and reasoning skills, therefore avoid drinking, driving, operating any form of machinery, or signing any important legal document for the next 24 hours after treatment. The three main types of sedation used in dentistry are:
Your dentist can prescribe you medicine such as Diazepam which can be taken one or two hours before the appointment or, alternatively, the night before.
This is also called relative analgesia, laughing gas, or gas and air. This is a combination of nitrogen oxide (N2O) and oxygen (O2) breathed through a mask placed over you nose.
It has a pain relief effect as well as majorly relaxing your body. You will experience a happy sensation and slight light-headedness, while being conscious of your surroundings and movements. It takes about 5 minutes to take effect and once the treatment is finished, the gas is stopped and leaves your body within a few minutes. There are no after-effects.
In this method of sedation, a small amount of a drug is injected into a vein in the back of your hand. This makes you relax and takes away your anxiety. Although you are able to communicate with the dentist, you will not remember any of the treatment afterwards.
General anaesthesia is the last option, where no other method of anxiety management is applicable. It can be used in cases of severe dental phobia, young children, people with disabilities, and people with potentially life-threatening infections. This procedure will be carried out in hospital or special clinics. You will be put in total sleep and will not remember anything afterwards. You should arrange with a friend or a family member to take you back home from hospital. General anaesthesia will affect your coordination and reasoning skills.
Alternative Methods- Physiological Techniques
Consider distracting yourself from your dental treatment by listening to music through headphones, watching a DVD or exercising relaxation techniques.
The power of suggestions put to you by your hypnotherapist can help change your mental approach to situations. You will be awake and in total control, despite the common misconception people have about hypnosis. Although hypnosis may help you relax, there is little scientific evidence showing it can help with anxiety. Hypnotherapy can only be performed on patients by an experienced professional or behavioural therapist.
Cognitive Behavioural Theraphy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy cannot remove the problem, but it helps you address negative thoughts and approach them in a positive way. A behavioural therapist can show you ways of reducing your fears of seeing a dentist.