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12 July 2023

Dental Phobia: Proven Sedation Techniques for Nervous Patients

For some of us, visiting a dentist represents nothing more than a walk in the park. Others experience feelings of nervousness and anxiety that may cause them to delay an important appointment. In fact, more than 36 percent of all adults are afraid of going to the dentist.

The problem here is that putting off a regular checkup could actually make things worse. Minor issues such as a cavity or inflamed gums may lead to a root canal or a diagnosis of gingivitis. 

This is why overcoming your dental phobia is the best way to ensure a healthy set of teeth and gums. Furthermore, there are many different ways in which these fears can be reduced. 

Medication at the Office

Dental sedation is a common practice today when addressing the concerns of nervous patients. Depending on the procedure as well as your personal desires, a professional can prescribe a host of unique techniques. You will find a brief description of each.

Topical pain treatments

These are normally reserved for minor treatments, as topical anaesthesia will effectively numb the surrounding area. Common solutions include a form of Lidocaine that can be administered as a cream or as a local injection. 

Laser cleanings

Laser dentistry represents one of the latest and most user-friendly means to address issues within the mouth. As opposed to mechanical techniques (such as the use of a scaler), lasers represent a non-invasive alternative that still provides powerful results. Nervous patients often state that lasers produce less pain and they may not require any form of sedation dentistry.

Electrical anaesthesia

In this approach, a series of electrodes will be placed at specific locations around your jaw (in accordance with the area being treated). Electrical signals are then sent to the nearby nerves, effectively preventing them from firing. The interesting thing about this technique is that the patient can manipulate a handheld device in order to modify the intensity of the current, and therefore, the pain relief.

Nitrous oxide

Otherwise known as “laughing gas”, nitrous oxide is arguably the most well-known type of sedation dentistry. You will be provided with a steady supply of nitrous oxide via a tube and a form-fitting facemask. While this gas does not render patients unconscious, it provides a profound sense of relaxation. Another benefit is that the effects generally wear off within minutes after the mask is removed.

Intravenous sedation

Those suffering from severe dental phobia or who will be undergoing more extensive procedures may be given intravenous sedation. Your dentist will determine the amount of oxygen you receive. Intravenous sedation is very effective and should be an option to consider. 

General anaesthesia

>This is the most powerful form of dental sedation. General sedation literally causes the patient to become unconscious, similar to those who are undergoing a surgical procedure. 

General anaesthesia may be required when performing extensive procedures or in the event that the patient is extremely anxious. However, inherent risks such as drop in blood pressure and irregular heart rate should be balanced against the potential short-term rewards. Consult with your dentist for additional advice. 

Mind-Body Mastery

The types of sedation dentistry mentioned above have been proven to offer predictable results. Still, what if you are equally afraid of needles or potential side effects? In this case, it may be better to tackle the problem from a psychological perspective. 

What are some of the ways in which you can consciously control your dental phobia? The methods outlined below could represent just what you have been looking for. 

Deep breathing techniques

When we enter into a “fight-or-flight” mode, the sympathetic nervous system will automatically trigger specific actions. These include shallow breathing, a rapid heart rate and nausea. One way to counteract such feelings is to practice deep breathing during a dental procedure. 

Meditation prior to your visit

Alongside deep breathing, meditation is yet another way to relax your mind and body. This approach has even been shown to reduce pain in some individuals. Of course, it will take a bit of time to master the various techniques in order to experience tangible benefits. The good news is that meditation can also be used to address anxiety and phobias outside of the dental office. 

Acupuncture

This ancient form of Chinese medicine involves placing small needles (normally causing no pain) at strategic locations of the body (such as around the jaw or on the forehead). Chemicals known as analgesics are then released, leading to a temporary numbing effect. Acupuncture can also be employed to enter into a state of deep relaxation, to address muscle cramps and even to treat certain chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia. 

Systemic desensitisation 

A final option embraces a more “hands-on” strategy. Known as systemic desensitisation (or immersion on occasion), you gradually expose yourself to situations that cause feelings of discomfort or anxiety. 

The theory is that over time, you will begin to adapt to such sensations and they no longer have a debilitating effect. There are plenty of studies which support systemic desensitisation, so do not hesitate to discuss this with your dentist.  

Self-Awareness Today Keeps the Phobias Away

All of these types of sedation dentistry can be used to place your mind at ease before, during and after a visit. Whether you prefer in-house treatments or you opt for the psychological approach, the results are likely to come as a pleasant surprise. After all, a dentist is the best friend that your mouth could ever hope to have!
Sources:

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22594-dentophobia-fear-of-dentists
  2. https://today.ucsd.edu/story/mindfulness-meditation-reduces-pain-by-separating-it-from-the-self
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fibromyalgia/expert-answers/fibromyalgia/faq-20057978
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