Dental Anxiety

When you think of going to the dentist, are you filled with a deep sense of fear? Do you find it impossible to even make an appointment? Are you frightened and overly emotional during dental visits? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. As much as 20% of the general population in industrialised nations report some level of dental anxiety, an irrational fear that leads to the avoidance of seeking dental treatment wherein exposure to the dentist elicits an immediate and often intense anxiety response.

Dental anxiety is no joke. As a common phobia, this condition can create a large amount of distress and can even have an impact on other aspects of your life. Obviously, without proper dental care your oral health may be at risk, but dental phobics also tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time either thinking about their oral health or trying not to think about it. So what causes dental phobia? In fact, there are a wide range of factors that contribute to this common fear.

Understandably, some people develop anxiety because of experiences of pain, gagging, or other negative responses in previous dental visits. Fear of needles, concern about embarrassing yourself in front of the dentist, and even the sounds made by dental equipment can contribute to anxiety. Yet, regardless of the root cause of your dental fears, there are solutions.

Beating dental anxiety may involve psychological, technical, or medical treatments. When trying to conquer your fears, it is always important to involve your dentist in the process. The nature of the dental environment and communication between you and your dental professionals are a great place to start to quell your concerns. Sometimes patients respond well to making the dental environment more comfortable by removing unnecessary equipment from the room, minimizing background noise, and providing a distraction such as a TV or music. Most importantly, you should be sure to communicate with your dentist about how you feel and issues that trigger anxiety.

More specifically, psychological techniques such as desensitization and other behaviour management techniques can be very helpful. Short preliminary visits where your dentist introduces tools and techniques gradually can help some patients overcome their dental anxiety. In addition, sedation can be a very effective technique for the extremely anxious. When changes in the environment, communication, and psychological techniques are ineffective, sedation helps patients become relaxed; and intravenous sedation can be especially useful so that patients are completely under and can receive more time-consuming and difficult treatments.

Finally, advances in dental technology can be utilized to put the patient at ease. Drills and other hand-held dental devices are quieter than they once were, and some of these tools even give patients control to stop the drill or hand-piece whenever their anxiety starts to get out of control. Moreover, as dental procedures advance, they become less invasive making them more acceptable to individuals with dental anxiety.

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