Ways of Dealing with Dental Anxiety & Fear

by | Jul 22, 2015 | Dentistry

As Randall reminded in the comments on our last post, if insomnia is a persistent problem, Alpha-Stim can offer some good help. It’s a device we also use often in our practice for patients who want a natural, drug-free way to relax during long or difficult procedures – or help dealing with dental anxiety in general.

man with anxious expressionDental fear is pretty common, too. According to one study, about a quarter of all people have it. That’s less than experience some other fears – of snakes, heights, injuries – but it tends to be rated as more severe, as well.

No surprise, then, that dental anxiety or fear is one of the big reasons why some folks will avoid the dentist if they can at all help it.

Even if you didn’t have all the negative or creepy portrayals of dentists in pop culture to draw from, there’s certainly enough about dental care than could make a person feel uneasy. There’s the whine and buzz of high speed hand instruments, the slurp and bubble of suction, and other disconcerting sounds. There are sometimes weird smells. There’s the worry – especially if you’ve skipped appointments for a while – that we’ll find major (and majorly expensive) problems that need to be fixed but aren’t causing you discomfort…yet.

Every office usually offers a number of options for relaxation – ours included.

One of the most common sedatives is odorless nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas.” Within just a minute or two of inhaling nitrous through a rubber nosepiece, your body begins to physically relax. (Nitrous has a mild analgesic – painkilling – effect, as well.) Your thoughts may go a little funny, yet you remain alert so you can let us know if you need anything and follow instructions we give to you.

After the procedure, you inhale pure oxygen for several minutes and are completely back to normal.

For other patients – including those with breathing difficulties or who are uncomfortable having their nose covered – anti-anxiety medications such as diazepam (Valium) may be helpful. We also offer conscious sedation with the help of a board certified anesthesiologist who remains present throughout the procedure to ensure all proceeds properly. As with nitrous, you remain awake, but because of the deeper relaxation conscious sedation provides, you may not remember much of the procedure at all. Afterwards, you will need someone to drive you home (likewise with meds).

Learn more about conscious sedation.

There are drug-free methods of relaxation, as well, including the previously mentioned Alpha-Stim. The device is about the size of a smartphone and uses Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation to dramatically reduce anxiety symptoms. We just clip an electrode onto each earlobe, and through those, a calming signal is sent to your brain. It’s a safe, clinically effective and proven way to relieve anxiety in a non-narcotic way.

Herbal and homeopathic remedies can also be helpful. Just a few drops of valerian root extract in water can have a powerful calming effect. Other relaxing botanicals include chamomile, lavender, passionflower, hyssop, hops and mugwort. Commonly used homeopathics for dental anxiety include aconitum, chamomilla and gelsemium.

Important: If you are taking any other medications or supplements – including botanicals and homeopathics – be sure to consult your dentist or physician before taking any remedies for anxiety. You don’t want to risk having a bad interaction. Just as mixing drugs can leave you in a bad way, so can certain combos of drugs and herbs or other remedies.

Many find that mindful breathing and related meditative practices are helpful both before and during treatment. Others like the distraction of their favorite music through earbuds – which has the added effect of muting any bothersome noises. What’s more, recent research suggests that it may also help reduce pain.

But perhaps the most underrated strategy for dealing with dental fear is communication. Talk with us. Let us know what we can do to make your visits more comfortable, less stressful.

Image by Brandon Warren

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