Dental anxiety is a common problem: it’s estimated that one in two Americans admits to some level of nervousness about seeing the dentist. On the extreme side of this statistic about 15% of the population even avoid or postpone dental care because of it. While comedy shows routinely make fun of people’s fear of the dentist, the consequences of not receiving needed dental care due to dental anxiety are no laughing matter.
Fortunately, visiting the dentist doesn’t have to be a nerve-wracking, butterflies-in-the-stomach experience. Here are 3 ways to make sure your next visit is more pleasant.
The right dentist. Dental care is more than technical—it’s also personal and relational. The most important element for reducing dental visit anxiety is a provider you’re comfortable with and that you trust. It’s especially important for high anxiety patients to find a dentist who also has compassion for how they feel and won’t judge them—instead, working with them to find just the right combination of techniques and possible medications that encourage relaxation.
Oral sedation. For many people nervous about dental visits the answer could be prescribed sedation medication taken an hour or so before their appointment. Typically a mild sedative, the dose is just enough to help them relax. It’s also often coupled with other methods like nitrous oxide or local anesthesia for a pain-free and unstressed experience.
IV sedation. For people with high levels of anxiety, it’s often beneficial to increase the level of sedation. One of the best ways to do this is with an intravenous flow of medication that will place a person in a deeper state of relaxation. Although this method requires careful vital sign monitoring during the procedure, it’s often the best way to calm patients with high anxiety so they can receive the dental care they need.
Working with your dentist, you can develop just the right mix of these and other methods for making your dental visits easier. No matter what your level of anxiety, you don’t have to avoid the dentist nor needed dental care.
If you would like more information on reducing anxiety during dental visits, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
Professional basketball player Lamar Odom is sometimes known as “the candyman” because of his notorious fondness for sweets. But when his sweet tooth finally caught up with him — in the form of a mouthful of decayed teeth — the six-foot-ten-inch, 230-pound hoops star admitted that he had been avoiding treatment… because he was afraid of going to the dentist!
It took two Kardashians (Khloe and Kim) and a painful toothache to finally persuade Odom to sit in the chair. Once he did, it was found that he needed a root canal, a wisdom tooth extraction, and several fillings. Yet the fretful forward sailed through the whole set of procedures in a single visit, and walked out with a big smile afterward. How did his dentists make that happen?
Put it down to the “magic” of sedation dentistry. With anxiety-relieving medications that can be delivered orally (in pill form or by gas) or intravenously (into the bloodstream), the techniques of sedation dentistry can help even the most fearful patients get the dental care they need. That’s good news for about 50 percent of the population, who admit they’re at least somewhat afraid of the dentist — and even better for the 15 percent who avoid dental care completely due to their fear.
Dentists have a number of ways to ease apprehensive patients through a dental visit. An oral anti-anxiety drug can be given in pill form about an hour beforehand. Nitrous oxide (sometimes called “laughing gas”), which is administered by a mask placed over the mouth or nose, may also be used to relieve anxiety. The calming effects of these medications help make any nervousness melt away — and in many circumstances, mild sedation is all that’s needed to ease the fear.
For lengthier or more complex procedures, intravenous (IV) sedation may be recommended. Unlike deeper (unconscious) sedation, IV sedation doesn’t cause “sleep.” Instead, it puts you in a comfortable semi-awake state, where you can still breathe on your own and respond to stimuli… but without feeling any anxiety. And when the procedure is over, you probably won’t have any memory of it at all.
IV sedation can be administered by dentists who are specially trained and equipped with the proper safety equipment. While sedation is being provided, you will be monitored at all times by a dedicated staff member; when it’s over, you will rest for a while as the medication quickly wears off. Then (as is the case with oral sedation), you’ll need another person to give you a ride home.
Does sedation dentistry really work? Lamar Odom thinks so. “I feel so much better,” he said when his 7-hour procedure was over. “I feel like I accomplished something.”