Why am I anxious in the dentist’s office? [Archives:2007/1104/Health]

November 19 2007

By: Dr. Moein Pourahmari
People are anxious about going to the dentist for different reasons, including worrying about the effectiveness of localized anesthetic and feeling like dentists are rushed or are neglecting their concerns. Other factors include anticipating pain, procedural costs, past experiences and even the sterile smell of dental offices. Interrupting the normal day's routine to visit the dentist also is a factor.

If not addressed, dental anxiety can lead to unnecessary oral health problems due to avoiding the dentist, which in turn can lead to much more time spent in the dental chair when treatment becomes the only option.

While new amenities may help create a calming, friendly environment, studies prove that the most important factor in overcoming dental anxiety is good dentist-patient communication.

“Today's dentist recognizes that dental anxiety is a real condition,” says Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson William Kuttler, “Helping patients overcome their fear of visiting the dentist has become just as important as mastering the latest clinical technique.”

What will my dentist do to relieve my anxiety?

When you arrive for your appointment, your dentist already has done a lot to ensure that every aspect of your visit is designed to create optimal comfort. For example, he or she has made sure the waiting room is neat and clean, and filled it with magazines and dental health information.

Some offices even set aside a small portion of the waiting room as a play area for children. Still others offer distractions such as television, music, aromatherapy, calming office decor and even hand massages and virtual reality glasses to help patients overcome dental anxiety.

Establishing trust and keeping patients informed and in control throughout their visit helps ease dental anxiety. One option is using hand signals to communicate with the dentist during a procedure.

How will my dentist handle my child's anxiety?

Some children are anxious, especially when visiting the dentist's office for the first time, as this experience into the unknown is a common cause of nervousness. In this case, the dentist or a member of his or her staff can talk directly with the child to make him or her more comfortable.

Ask your dentist to take your child on a tour of the office, explaining various equipment along the way. For young children, especially those under age 3, a parent or relative may accompany the child throughout the procedure. Older children are encouraged to show independence.

What can I do to relieve dental anxiety?

Knowledge is the greatest defense against anxiety. Avoiding caffeine before a dental appointment can decrease anxiousness. Likewise, eating high-protein foods produces a calming effect, unlike sugary foods.

An understanding of your dental health and the dental services or treatments you and your dentist have discussed and decided upon will go a long way to help relieving dental anxiety, so ask questions and request information material.

Regular six-month preventive checkups help detect oral health problems early, as well as acquaint patients with procedures that can help overcome their fears of visiting the dentist.

During the actual dental procedure, focus on breathing slowly and regularly. When we're nervous, we tend to hold our breath, which decreases oxygen levels and further increases feelings of panic. Use hand signals to inform the dentist when you're uncomfortable.

Patients can help themselves by discussing their fears openly and honestly with their dentist. If you have specific fears, talk to your dentist about them. He or she can go a long way to dispelling any negative or frightening images you may have.

How do I find a good dentist?

When looking for a dentist, ask friends and relatives for recommendations because a glowing review of a dentist from someone you trust can reduce anxiety significantly.

When seeing a new dentist for the first time, schedule an appointment for a consultation visit. Take the opportunity to ask the dentist a few questions, being sure to address your concerns. You'll find that dentists who take the time to speak with you about these matters will be more understanding when it comes to addressing your fears.

Tips for overcoming dental anxiety:

-Talk to your dentist; he or she can help.

-Avoid caffeine and sugar before a dental appointment; they may make you more anxious.

-Schedule dental appointments early in the day – before you become stressed or rushed.

-Focus on relaxing, breathing slowly and regularly during your procedure.

-Use hand signals to inform the dentist when you're uncomfortable.

Dr. Moein Pourahmari is a dentist and maxillofacial surgeon, as well as a lecturer at Sana'a University's Faculty of Dentistry.