Dental Anxiety and Phobia

Wednesday, 14 July 2021
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Dental Anxiety and Phobia

For many Australians, Dental Anxiety and Phobiacan be a barrier to dental treatments. Strange smells, sounds, memories of previous experiences, and the apprehension of not knowing what is going to happen can induce physical and mental symptoms.

Dental Anxiety is common and often easily managed in the dental clinic with several simple techniques.

Dental Phobia is much less common than Dental Anxiety and often needs the assistance of a Counsellor or Psychologist in addition to the dental team.

Please do not feel as if you are alone if the thought of coming to the dentist makes you feel light-headed, your palms sweat and your heart race or palpitate. Unfortunately, our dental colleagues from many years ago did not have the access to the technology and knowledge that we have now in the dental clinic. As a result, many people have vivid memories of uncomfortable appointments. These memories can be triggered with the sound, smell, and thoughts of dental treatment.

Things You Can do to Decrease Discomfort, Anxiety and Dental Phobia:

  • Let your dental team know if you suffer with anxiety or phobia of the dentist, either when you call to make an appointment, or when you arrive. There are many things we can do to help alleviate this.For our nervous patients, we can cover all visible instruments from sight and close our surgery doors so no noises from the outside can cause stress or disruption.
  • Making sure you are booking in first thing in the morning, rather than at the end of the day can be helpful. Sitting all day worrying about an afternoon appointment is only likely to cause an increase in anxiety, so for this reason, we suggest coming in first thing so there is less time for you to talk yourself out of the appointment.
  • Bringing your own headphones and phone/iPod to listen to your favourite podcast, music or relaxation meditation can be useful in distracting yourself from your dental appointment.
  • Make sure you have had something to eat before your appointment. An empty rumbly tummy during a dental appointment can make some feel nauseous and can increase any anxiety you might experience.
  • Wear comfortable clothes for your appointment. The dental chair is not the fashion runway. There is no need to wear suits and stilettos when you visit us. Make sure you are wearing comfortable clothing and shoes. Being physically comfortable is so important in reducing anxiety.

Methods We Use to Decrease Anxiety and Phobia for Our Patients:

  • During an appointment we may ask you to select a movie or music album so that you are able to focus your attention elsewhere. This is an effective and sometimes underrated way of improving a dental appointment for patients.
  • Breathing Techniques. Should you find yourself struggling during an appointment, you might be guided through one of the following by lovely clinical staff.
  1. One of the most common breathing techniques is the “54321” exercise. Start with deep breathing. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold the breath for 5 seconds, and breathe out for 5 seconds. Continue this pattern until you find your thoughts slowing down. We suggest placing your hands on your stomach and focus on feeling your hands rise and fall evenly and smoothly with each breath.
  2. Another effective approach against anxiety is the “333”method. Should you experience a spike in anxiety, it can be helpful to ground yourself by making yourself aware of your surroundings. A simple way to do this is to think of 3 sounds you hear, 3 things you feel, 3 things you see. After you’ve done this, move 3 parts of your body 3 times each. By doing this, you will bring yourself back to the present.

Hint! These breathing techniques can be useful in many different places, not just the dentist. Keep them in mind next time you feel anxiety and try them!

  • Nitrous gas, also known as ”Happy Gas”. This is the same gas that is commonly given to ladies in labour. It is administered through a soft rubber mask that sits over the nose, gently mixing Nitrous Oxide with Oxygen. This is predictable and easily reversible by removing the mask.

The gas allows the patient to be fully present for your appointment, but more relaxed during the appointment.

Nitrous can be suitable for patients of all ages, and is used so commonly in dental practices, that the fee for it is usually partially covered, by most health insurances.

Ask your clinician if Nitrous is an option for your next visit. It might just be the little bit of help to make your visit that much easier.

  • Numbing gel is applied before local anaesthetic is given at most dental offices. This is a gel ointment that is applied and left for several minutes to completely numb the outer surface of the gum.

Here at Grandis Dental Dr Gretchen likes to order her own numbing gel from her compounding Pharmacist. This way we are able to provide you with double strength numbing gel, and tasty flavours rather than the bitter tasting traditional gel.

So long as the ointment is left to sit on the gum for several minutes, it is unlikely that you would feel the scratch of the numbing when it happens.

For phobic patients that are unable to have any treatment done in the surgery,  we are able to liaise with other medical and dental professionals to organise treatment in a hospital setting under General Anaesthetic. Initially, we do need to carry out an assessment in the surgery to plan what treatment is needed. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about this topic.