If there’s one thing that any good dentist knows, it’s how different each and every one of their patients are. We like to think of everyone as liking and disliking the same things that we like, but we would be foolish to think that that is the case. We only have to look to our preferences to understand the diversity of interests, behaviors and responses to stimulus. While some listen to classical, many prefer jazz. While some need an extra layer on a cool autumn afternoon, others will prefer a t-shirt to keep their body temperature at a comfortable level. And while most of us adore the silky-smooth deliciousness of chocolate, others overlook it completely (I know, we’re shocked too!). The reality is that humans are very complex, and our decisions and preferences are expressed in a variety of ways. Some patients regard a visit to the dentist with excitement or indifference while others may find themselves afflicted by anxiety at the thought alone.
If you or a loved one experiences anxiety at the dentist, there are some tried and true ways to help you feel much more comfortable in the clinical environment. First and foremost, though, we want our patients to understand that dental anxiety is not uncommon, so it is important to do away with any feelings of shame associated with your fear of the dentist. Shame and embarrassment do nothing but make you feel worse about a situation that already has your nerves ‘on edge’. So, take some time to reassure yourself that you are not alone and that there is a solution for you – we just need to communicate well in order to identify what that is.
Know Your Dentist
If you are anxious about going to the dentist, having a dentist that you trust and are familiar with can go long way in alleviating your concerns. Dentists vary in their approach and bedside manner as much as anyone, so if you don’t feel comforted after speaking with your dentist – simply move on to find one whose approach is a good fit for you.
It is often the case that patients who experience significant anxiety around dental procedures are primarily in need of being heard. If you’ve had a previous poor experience with a dentist, it is likely due to the dentist’s approach and not due to their professional services themselves, since dentists are all trained to a very high standard to be able to practice. We recommend calling your dental office of choice and requesting a consultation. During your consultation, you can explain to your dentist that you are feeling anxious and ask what can be done to ensure that your procedure goes as smoothly as possible for both of you. Your dentist should listen to your concerns and be able to show empathy for them. They should reassure you that you will be in constant communication throughout the procedure, and that any indication of discomfort will be addressed before proceeding. Your dentist may take the opportunity to have you meet the team members that will be assisting in your procedure so that you are on a first-name basis with the team and everyone knows how they can best support your comfort needs.
Your dentist may discuss opportunities to use oral sedation to assist you in feeling calm during your procedure. This is typically offered in the form of benzodiazepine oral medications, or nitrous gas. Benzodiazepines are very safe when used as directed and allow you to remain conscious throughout the procedure despite feeling a pleasant sleepiness and general indifference. As a result of this altered state, you will be asked to have someone accompany you to and from the dentist and you are likely to sleep-off the freezing when you get home. Nitrous gas, on the other hand, has a very fast onset of just a few seconds and can be re-dosed as required throughout the procedure. Nitrous gas is mixed with oxygen and delivered by inhalation through a medical mask. The advantage of nitrous gas is twofold: it provides relief from anxiety and provides a calming and slightly analgesic (painkilling) effect. It also dissipates just minutes after inhalation so you can drive yourself to and from the appointment without concerns about safe driving. The painkilling nature of nitrous gas is not sufficient enough to forego freezing, but it will make the process of being frozen with injections much more tolerable.
If these options are not sufficient for your level of anxiety, you may want to discuss deeper forms of sedation with your dentist, such as IV sedation or general sedation. Your dentist may not be able to facilitate these forms of sedation at their clinic, but they are likely to be able to refer you to another trusted member of the dental community who has the ability to provide the service and approach you are looking for.
We recommend speaking with your dentist about the comfort items available at their clinic. Head phones, televisions and warm blankets may be available for use, or they may recommend bringing along a comfort item such as a favourite comfortable sweater, blanket or even your best friend for support. Remember, if you don’t feel comfortable enough with your dentist’s approach simply seek out another dental professional who suits your needs. Your need to feel heard and supported is likely to make the biggest difference in your experience at the dentist.