Do you know someone with a dental phobia or avoidance issue? If so, you are in good company. It’s estimated that up to 15 percent of Americans avoid dental appointments due to fear of pain, anxiety about treatment, or shame about the condition of their teeth. For some patients, they have memories of bad experiences that happened when they were younger—perhaps even before anesthetic treatments were as efficient as they are today. For others, the sensory experience of a dental visit triggers feelings of helplessness; bright lights, the sounds of a dental drill, and the feeling of having others’ hands in your mouth is just too much to bear. Many cases of dental phobia occur in patients who do not seek regular dental care and have only had traumatic experiences as a result of toothaches or cavities. Unfortunately, avoiding preventive dental appointments is the best way to avoid dental problems, so they aren’t doing themselves any favors by avoiding appointments. As dentists, we are constantly looking for new ways to help people seek care for their teeth and gums, and one of the most popular methods for overcoming anxiety is dental sedation. |
You may have heard the term “sleep dentistry” thrown around, but this is actually one of the deepest levels of sedation some dentists may offer. The most common forms of sedation you’ll find at dental practices today do not induce unconsciousness, but simply a state of calm and relaxation. Oral sedation and nitrous oxide gas are offered by many dentists in America to help their patients relax and have a stress-free experience both before and during treatment. Oral sedation involves the use of mild anti-anxiety medicines, such as those used to treat nervous flyers or panic attacks. It usually come in a pill, and patients can stay calmly awake throughout the procedure. Nitrous oxide gas (often known as “laughing gas”) is another sedating medicine that has the added benefit of leaving the body within a few minutes after treatment; patients can safely drive themselves home without side effects after nitrous oxide. Yes, some patients do seek IV sedation or general anesthesia for longer dental procedures or to knock out multiple treatments at once, but these forms of sedation are not as common in most dental practices.
What about patients who aren’t comfortable taking sedating drugs? Are there any treatments available for them?
There are two possibilities I can name offhand that may help nervous patients for whom sedation is not a preferred option. The first is simply finding a dentist you can trust. There are a number of practitioners today who describe their approach as “patient-centered.” What this means is that they put their patients’ experience first. Of course, we want to give you the best oral health you can possibly get, but we realize that we can’t deliver dental care unless you, the patient, are comfortable and happy with our prescribed course of treatment. Patient-centered practices take the time to establish a friendly and trusting relationship with each patient, and never coerce a patient into a specific treatment. We educate, we listen, and we recommend treatment—but the patient is always in the driver’s seat. This approach can help nervous patients feel empowered, which is a great cure for anxiety.
Another drug-free approach to dental anxiety is a patented system called NuCalm. This treatment uses sensory deprivation (headphones and eye mask), audio, and electrotherapy stimulation to induce a deep sense of relaxation—similar to the calm feeling you get when you are drifting off to sleep. Our brain waves go through distinct phases between alert wakefulness and deep sleep, and the alpha and theta wave states are ideal for having a calm experience during a dental appointment. Brainwave manipulation is not dangerous or harmful, and people have been using it for years to enhance meditation and become more focused and mindful in their everyday life.
If you know someone who has avoided dentistry treatments due to anxiety, there are multiple approaches to helping them that have been adopted by forward thinking dentists. Take the time to research the dentists in your area, and you may find a solution that can help your friend or family member get the care they need.
Dr. Carl Futenma is a dentist in Vancouver, WA, who offers sedation and NuCalm treatment in his practice. Learn more about modern dentistry with Creative Smiles.
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