John Smith was 15 years old when he needed to have his impacted wisdom teeth extracted. Unfortunately, his dental office didn’t tell him that he couldn’t eat before coming in, which meant they could not sedate him when he arrived.
Instead, the office used a combination of novocain and laughing gas to prep him for the extraction. However, when going in to remove John’s wisdom teeth, the dentist forgot to deliver novocain to the 4th quadrant of John’s mouth, leading to an experience that would leave John fearing every dental appointment thereafter.
An estimated 40 million Americans seriously fear the dentist, according to a recent Columbia University College of Dental Medicine survey.1
This statistic is compelling when we consider the consequences of avoiding the dentist, which is the natural reaction to this fear. Many patients don’t realize that the rest of the body will not remain unaffected if they ignore their oral health. Teeth and gums share tissue, nerves and blood with other parts of the body, which means that good oral hygiene is essential to good overall health.
So, where does dental anxiety come from? And how can you get past it?
Dental anxiety and where it comes from:
- Painful prior incident
- Fear of loss of control
- Fear of pain (most common)
- Fear of embarrassment
Pain is as much a cognitive (thinking) experience as it is an emotional one. In order for the entire dental office experience to be pleasant, there are precautionary steps you can take to not only prepare, but also to allow the dentist and staff to understand where you are emotionally with the visit.
- Ask to speak to the dentist about your fears before you come in—this is part of Dr. Marchbank’s job, and you have no need to feel like you’re asking too much
- Be honest about your fears with a member of the staff
- Bring a friend or relative you trust
- Take advantage of a distraction—listen to a new album you downloaded, or load an episode of a show you like to your phone
- Try controlled breathing: take in a big breath and let it out very slowly (this will slow your heartbeat and relax your muscles, reducing the stress levels that can lead to a state of panic)
- Try progressive muscle relaxation: tense a group of muscles and then relax them, then do another group (toes, calves, thighs, abs, fingers, etc.)
- Avoid caffeine and sugar before a visit, and eat a high-protein meal beforehand
- Select a low-stress appointment time for your schedule, whether that’s a weekend or early morning—less pressure means less anxiety!
- For pediatric cases, try to condition your children at home by practicing placing fingers gently in their mouth to “examine” teeth, and brushing their teeth yourself as though you were “playing dentist”
- Lastly, for parents, do NOT project your personal fears about the dentist onto your children—with the leaps and bounds dentistry has made in the last couple decades, children’s experiences are largely positive
Reducing dental anxiety can actually increase a person’s pain threshold, and lead to greater trust of your dentist. Plus, you’ll have a healthier mouth, and a much more positive outlook on dentistry and oral health in general.
Some of the ways that we here at Dr. Marchbank’s office help in lowering the stress of a dentist visit are:
- Gently explaining what the you will feel, and for about how long
- Frequently ask you for permission to continue
- Give you every opportunity to stop the procedure, using cues such as raising your hand
- Making time for requested breaks
If dealing with the anxiety of getting in to see the dentist is the biggest problem you face as our patient, then we’ll be thankful knowing that your experience at Dr. Marchbank’s office will be exactly the positive reaffirmation you need!