Dentist treating a woman scared of the dental procedure.

No one necessarily looks forward to going to a dentist any more than they look forward to going to a physician. In fact, most people have some sort of anxiety before visiting a dentist, much like any other health professional.

However, the situation is quite different for people with dental anxiety. For them, going to the dentist is terrifying. Approximately 9% to 20% people in the US, including children and adults, avoid going to the dentist due to anxiety.

So what is dental anxiety after all?

As the name suggests, dental anxiety refers to the anxiousness, stress and/or nervousness associated with the dentist or dental procedures. For most people, it is associated with medical equipment, such as needles, drills or the dentist’s office setting itself.

Consequently, people with dental phobia exhibit classic avoidance behavior. This means that they will go out of their way to find excuses and not visit the dentist. Despite knowing the irrational nature of their fear, they can’t do much about it.

Why does it happen?

A lot of people get anxious due to the painful or uncomfortable nature of dental procedures. Some get anxious from the thought of having needles and other sharp and pointy tools in their oral cavity.

For some people, dental anxiety can be caused due to other mental health conditions. Conditions like general anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia can increase the risk of dental anxiety.

Lastly, a previous history of injury or bad dental experience can also increase the risk of dental anxiety.

What does it look like?

Symptoms of dental anxiety can present as follows:

Increased or excessive sweating
Palpitations or increased heart rate
Low blood pressure
Visible signs of panic

As a result, people will often miss their dental appointments regularly. Whether the anxiety is simple or complex, it can lead them to avoid dental treatments.

How can one cope with it?

According to WebMD and our dental expert at Rosedale family dental care, the key to coping with dental anxiety is discussing your concerns with your dentist. Having years of education and hands-on practice, they are equipped to work with you to find a solution.

Coping with the lack of control

One of the main dental anxiety triggers is the lack of control. The best way to reduce some stress is to ask your dentist to explain what will happen each step of the way. Being prepared and knowing what to expect can reduce some of the tension.

If that alone isn’t helpful enough, your dentist may suggest supplemental help to manage your anxiety. These options include:

Nitrous Oxide or Happy Gas

Most people are no strangers to laughing gas. Also called relative analgesia, nitrous oxide is known to help people calm down during dental procedures.

The dentist fits a mask to your face and administers a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide. It takes effect in a few minutes, immediately calming people. They are still awake and aware of their surroundings, but won’t necessarily remember the procedure once it’s over.

The gas wears off quickly, but can leave people feeling giggly and relaxed for some time.

Conscious IV Sedation

If you don’t like the sensation nitrous oxide creates, you can opt for conscious IV sedation. The dentist themselves or an anesthetist will place the IV into a vein the arm or hand.

The medication is administered through a drip, allowing patients to drift off. This form of sedation does have some side effects, such as nausea and drowsiness. Hence, patients are advised not to drive after a procedure.

Oral Sedation

This comprises taking a few pills either right before the procedure or spaced out at intervals. Anxiolytic medications or anxiety-relieving medications are prescribed to help patients relax. 

They are short-acting and taken an hour before a procedure. It loosens their nerves and puts them in a semi-conscious state. Most patients, when they come to, don’t have any recollection from the procedure.

General Anesthesia

In the case of dental anxiety, general anesthesia is used for patients with extreme anxiety or dental phobia. This is carried out in hospital settings where the dentist has access to a trained anesthetist.

While this option is suitable, it does have a longer recovery time and some side effects. Additionally, you can’t drive yourself or travel alone.

Before choosing any one of these options, articulate your concerns with your dentist. The dentist in Rosedale dental clinic will go through your dental and physical history and chat with you about your anxiety to help you find the right solution for you.

Other coping techniques

While medication can help reduce in-procedure dental anxiety, you can supplement that with the following coping techniques:

Meditation and deep breathing
Distraction, such as listening to music
Guided imagery

Remember that dental anxiety is a common fear for many people. There are ways your dentist can help you manage the anxiousness so you don’t neglect your oral health. If the anxiety becomes too much to handle, consider seeing a therapist.