How do you cope with dental anxiety or dental phobia?19 May 2017 Categories: Dental Anxiety Patient care
By Dr. Geoff Baggaley
BChD DGDP(U.K.) RCS Dip.Con.Sed(Newc)
If you’re very nervous of the dentist and dental treatment – you are not alone. It’s believed that over 60% of the adult population suffers from some level of anxiety about visiting the dentist. There are many people who feel a little uneasy about dental treatment, but they can usually cope. However, if you have an intense or persistent fear of the dentist, you may have dental anxiety or dental phobia and will need a sympathetic practice with additional support to get the treatment you need.
Dental 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, and when that involves the mouth, it can be heightened. This ‘preparation’ by the body 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 suffer from dental anxiety and will often only go to the dentist when they have a dental emergency or are in extreme pain! The strength of this anxiety dissuades them from going to the dentist for those regular and essential dental check ups that help to prevent problems becoming.
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.
Treating “dentally anxious” patients
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.
Getting help if you suffer from dental anxiety
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 own 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. If the dentist has genuine empathy, they will be capable of building a strong relationship with their patient which is built on trust. Overcoming dental anxiety is primarily about finding the right dentist, one who the patient feels listens to them and genuinely 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.
Dental Anxiety Management Professionals at The Raglan Suite
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 encourage positive dental experiences.
We start with behavioural management techniques, which alone can be successful. Often an anxious patient simply needs to be allowed the time to “tell their story” of why they are anxious, and to be heard. If this is received with empathy, it may be enough to enable simple dental checks and procedures to take place. If this is effective, so begins a relationship of trust, and more complex care may be provided. However, it also needs to be accepted that a some patients who have been avoiding the dentist for some time may need more than simple dentistry to regain good oral health.
If, following behavioural management 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 are still awake and able to respond throughout the procedure, but they won’t be aware of what is happening and may not even 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.
Our approach for treating dental anxiety
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 comfortable, non-clinical room, to discuss their feelings and concerns. That is it – there is no obligation to continue from there, but it’s often the case that once that initial step has been taken and trust is initiated, patients want to move forward with improving their dental health and getting their smile back.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that if a patient suffers from dental anxiety or dental 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. If you would like to meet with Geoff to discuss your concerns in a non-clinical environment, simply fill in the online form and one of our Treatment Co-ordinators will contact you.