Dental anxiety is a very real problem for thousands of Americans. The term “dental anxiety” can describe anything from minor anxiety about going to the dentist all the way to a debilitating dental phobia that prevents one from going to the dentist. In fact, about 9-20% of Americans avoid the dentist altogether due to severe dental anxiety.
The best way to avoid dental issues is to visit your dentist twice a year for exams and cleanings. This is easier for some than it is for others. Unfortunately, however, avoiding the dentist can really cost you down the line, especially if you have dental issues like tooth decay or gum disease that continue to progress. Luckily, modern dentists have multiple options for helping to ease dental anxiety. Here are four ways that your dentist can help you relax during your appointment:
One common cause of dental anxiety is the fear that going to the dentist is painful. Unfortunately, this fear can usually be attributed to stories of past treatments told by acquaintances and/or the way dentists are portrayed in certain films and TV shows. Luckily, modern dentistry has become far more comfortable with the use of dental anesthetics. Dental anesthetics are used in the mouth to prevent nerve cells from transmitting pain signals to the brain. When dental anesthetics are used around the treatment site, this will make the area numb to any discomfort. While you will still be able to feel the pressure of touch, you should feel no discomfort when using dental anesthetics. To make your experience a pleasant one, many dentists offer the option of dental anesthetics on any procedure that may cause discomfort.
In addition to using dental anesthetics to numb your pain, inhaled sedation can also be used to eliminate any residual feelings of anxiety. Inhaled sedation is a nitrous oxide gas that is inhaled through a small nasal mask during the entire procedure. Minutes after the gas is inhaled, it produces feelings of deep calm and even euphoria, which is why it is commonly called laughing gas. This will allow you to remain conscious, while also putting you in a deep state of relaxation. After your procedure when you stop inhaling nitrous oxide, you will no longer feel the effects of the gas and should be able to drive yourself home.
Another sedation method that can be used to relieve anxiety is oral sedation. When using oral sedation, your dentist will direct you to take a sleeping pill the morning of and possibly the night before your appointment. Depending on the dosage, oral sedation can either put you into a deeply relaxed state or it can even put you into a light sleep. However, you will still be able to be awoken easily and will be somewhat responsive. When using oral sedation, you will need to have a driver bring you to and from the appointment since the effects of oral sedation last longer than those of nitrous oxide and will continue to affect you even after the procedure.
In cases of severe dental anxiety, invasive dental procedures, or multiple/long dental procedures, IV sedation can be used to provide a deep level of sedation. IV sedation is delivered through an intravenous catheter inserted into the arm. Out of all the sedation options, IV sedation is the fastest-acting and most precise method. It can be used to provide relaxation, put you in a light sleep, or to achieve complete unconsciousness. Even when conscious under IV sedation, people do not have any memory of the procedure. Like oral sedation, however, the sedative effects will last even after the procedure. This means that you will need someone to drive you from your appointment. It is also recommended that someone monitors you until the effects of sedation have worn off completely.
Dr. Alina Huang has been practicing dentistry in Manhattan for the last eight years. She was born in New York City, and raised in California where she received her Bachelor’s degree at UCLA, and her D.D.S. at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco. She then made her return to NYC where she completed her General Practice Residency at Montefiore Medical Center and has been working in private practice ever since. She continues her learning by attending courses to stay current with the latest advancements in dentistry and refine her skills.