How do you cope with dental anxiety?19 May 2017 Categories: Dental Anxiety Uncategorized
By Dr. Geoff Baggaley
BChD DGDP(U.K.) RCS Dip.Con.Sed(Newc)
Anxiety is one of the body’s most powerful emotions. Anxiety in itself is a condition in which the body is preparing for something unpleasant to happen.
This ‘preparation’ is accompanied by both physiological and psychological responses. The psychological responses are often tension and a feeling of impending danger and lack of control. The physiological responses are perspiring, increased heart rate and a liability to faint.
A significant percentage of the population feel this level of anxiety in response to visiting the dentist or having dental treatment. In reality, this means that people who suffer from dental anxiety will often limit their dental visits to emergencies only. The strength of this emotion dissuades them from going to the dentist for regular and essential dental check ups.
Further to this, dentally anxious patients often carry a feeling of guilt – compounded by feeling that they are the most anxious patient who has ever walked the planet or that they have the worst teeth of anyone. The truth is very different. Over 60 % of the adult population suffers from some level of dental anxiety, which demonstrates that they are not alone – in fact, quite the opposite.
At The Raglan Suite we successfully treat people with higher than average levels of dental anxiety every day. The thing is – teeth and gums, like the rest of our bodies, need to be looked after and any issues treated promptly. The main problem for dentally anxious patients isn’t just the possibility (or reality) of unsightly, stained or missing teeth, but the wider implications and substantial risk of undetected dental disease and oral cancer.
If a patient hasn’t visited a dentist in a number of years, it’s important to get support. The first step is to talk to their dentist about it – if a dentist is sympathetic, they will understand and make a special effort to help their patient feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible. This can take time. However, if the dentist has genuine empathy, they will be capable of building a strong relationship with their patient built on trust. Overcoming dental anxiety is primarily about finding the right dentist, one who they feel listens to them and understands their fears, one who they are comfortable with and trust 100%.
However, more often than not, patients have been let down by an unpleasant or painful experience, or by a dentist who may appear more interested in working quickly and with little understanding of the patient’s anxiety.
At The Raglan Suite, we use a range of different methods of care to create a safe atmosphere in which the patient feels confident enough to accept advice and treatment. The aim is to facilitate positive dental experiences. We start with behavioural management techniques, which alone can be successful. Often the anxious patient needs to be allowed the time to “tell their story” of why they are anxious. If this is received with empathy, it may be enough to begin a relationship of trust, enabling simple dental checks and procedures to take place. If this is effective, more complex care may be provided. It needs to be accepted that a significant number of anxious patients may need more than simple dentistry in order to regain good oral health.
However, if following such techniques, a patient still feels a high level of anxiety, we can also provide different forms of sedation to help them relax. If a patient is sedated, they will still be awake and able to respond throughout the procedure, but they won’t be aware of what is happening and may not be able to remember it. There are different ways to be sedated:
- ‘Gas and air’ (inhalation sedation) – this is simply a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen which is breathed in through a nasal mask and provides a level of sedation and analgesia (pain relief).
- Intravenous Sedation – this is the use of sedation drugs which are delivered through a small plastic tube placed carefully in a vein, usually in the arm. This drug has a very useful side effect, in that the patient usually remembers very little of the dental visit. This form of sedation can only be performed by a dentist or doctor that is specially trained.
At The Raglan Suite, I work exclusively with people who suffer from dental anxiety. In my experience, even people who have extreme fear about the simplest dental procedures can learn to receive treatment in a manner that feels safe and calm. Our approach here at The Raglan Suite is to encourage small, yet conquerable steps. The first step is simply having a chat with me, in a non-clinical environment, to discuss their feelings and concerns.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that if a patient suffers from dental anxiety or phobia, they are not alone. There are many, many people who share their anxieties and equally there are many ways that we can help them towards achieving a happy, healthy smile.
Dr. Geoff Baggaley
Dr. Geoff Baggaley is a professional in the management of dental anxiety and teaches dentists across the UK on how to deliver his techniques to their own anxious patients.