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Dental Anxiety - Abnormal fear or dread of visiting the dentist for preventive care or follow up treatment and extreme anxiety over dental procedures.

Let’s face it, not many people truly enjoy going to the dentist. There are plenty who do, but most do not. We know it is good for our dental and overall health, so we go for that reason. For some, an irrational fear takes over, leaving them paralyzed with fear, and without the dental care they need to enjoy their lives fully.  According to a 2009 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) almost 50% of adults skip dental visits due to dental anxiety.

Psychology of Dental Anxiety

Many dental related fears are developed when you are young and impressionable. Sometimes the dental fear is transferred from parents to their children. When a parent is highly anxious, they oftentimes elaborate on pain, needles, drilling, and tooth removal, causing the child to believe that this will happen to them also. For some, a bad dental experience can traumatize them for the future. Feeling pain, gagging, losing control, not knowing what is going on, or having unexpected procedure you were not prepared for can be very difficult to get over. Prior to modern dentistry, dentists and their instruments were given a bad reputation in real life, movies and TV shows . The instruments and techniques used to mask discomfort were less than ideal. In modern dentistry, the dentist is more in tune to patients dental anxiety and dental fears. These dental anxieties can be overcome with a concerted effort by the patient, loved ones, and dentist.

How to Overcome Dental Anxiety

Overcoming dental anxiety can take as little as one visit, or it can take months to years. It all depends on the level of anxiety or phobia a patient might have. The following are some tips to help overcome dental anxiety:

1) Find the “right” dentist. Not all dentists have the same educational training, techniques, or patience when it comes to patients with dental anxiety. Do your research, use the Internet or ask friends and loved ones for recommendations. A good dentist is one, who is able to communicate effectively with you, and put you at ease. Most patients feel better when they know whats going on and how its going to happen. Understanding what will happen in the appointment, and having a signal to stop whenever you need to, gives back control to the patient and takes the surprise out of the situation. You and your dentist will figure out what specific things elevate your dental anxiety, and find ways to work around them. Ask your dentist their policy on emergencies after hours. Many dentists do not return calls after hours while others personally answer calls after hours and even open the office if the situation is necessary.

2) Distraction. Oftentimes, redirecting your mind can set you at ease. Meditation can be taught to you by your dentist. Music can help if the noises of dentistry affect you, bring your ipod or mp3 player with your favorite music and listen during the treatment to distract your mind and relieve your dental anxiety. A soft “squeezy ball” can help, and give that comforting feeling of squeezing someones hand.

3) Take Breaks when Needed. This goes back to communication. Take the time out during procedures to compose yourself as needed. Have a predetermined hand signal to stop the procedure as often as needed. Some patients with dental anxiety feel claustrophobic after awhile and may need to walk around a bit, catch their breath, ask a question, etc. before finishing the dental procedure.

4) Be Open and Honest. Tell your dentist what bothers you most about the dental experience, or past problems that have increased your dental anxiety. For some, the loud pitched noises may be very difficult, for others it might be the smells of the dental office, and for others it might be a past painful experience. These issues can be addressed in order to make your experience more acceptable. In dentistry today, there are many techniques to deliver a more comfortable and comforting experience.

5) Consider Medication. For some of us with more extreme dental anxiety, a mild form of sedation may be necessary to get you through. Taking a medication such as Valium prior to your appointment can help you sleep the night before, and allow for you to actually get to your appointment. Generally, such medications relax your entire body, decreasing the sweats, heart racing, and panic attacks that might otherwise disable you. This is a wonderful way to acclimate yourself to your new dentist, and the dental experience. Over time, the dosage can be reduced as you gain confidence in your dentist and your own coping abilities.  Plenty of patients, with time, can learn the techniques necessary to have dental treatment without medication.

Dental Anxiety Conclusion

Dental anxiety can be truly crippling. What we have to remember is, that if we want good health, dental treatment is necessary.  Recent studies have shown definite links between our dental health and our general health. This means it makes our dental health doubly important for us to lead healthy, happy lives. Dental anxiety CAN be overcome and defeated with a concerted effort by dentist and patient. If you are suffering from dental anxiety, take that first step, and make an appointment to meet with a dentist well versed in treating dental anxiety and dental phobia.

 

Did you know that a redheads genetic makeup may lead to a need for increased local anesthetic and have higher dental anxiety? A recent study by the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) shows that people with a specific gene tend to experience increased dental anxiety during routine dental treatment. This gene occurs more often in redheads than the general population. A second study showed that redheads need 20% more anesthesia, and it wears off faster than in blondes or dark haired people. Perhaps, the need for increased anesthesia has caused many of these redheads to fear dental treatment?

The Dental Anxiety and Dental Pain Study

The dental anxiety study included 144 people (67 with red hair and 77 with dark hair) who answered various questions about dental fears and dental anxieties. Following survey questions, blood samples were taken to test for the presence of specific gene variations. People with one specific gene, melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), were more than twice as likely to report dental fear and dental anxiety than those without the gene. 85 patients had the gene in the study and 65 of them were redheads. This same gene is also thought to be responsible for increased sensitivity to thermal pain and increased resistance to the effects of local anesthesia.

The research teams believes variations of the MC1R gene play a role. This MC1R gene produces melanin, which gives skin, hair and eyes their distinctive color.

While blond, brown and black-haired people produce melanin, those with red hair have a mutation of this receptor. It produces a different coloring called pheomelanin, which results in freckles, fairer skin and red hair. Approximately 5% of whites are believed to have these characteristics.

While the relationship between MC1R and pain sensitivity is not known completely, researchers have discovered MC1R receptors in the brain and some of them are known to influence pain sensitivity. As stated above, non redheads can also carry the gene.

Tips to Deal With Dental Anxiety and Dental Pain

-Communication. Keeping open lines of communication is always important to ensure proper numbing is being obtained to make the patient comfortable. Discussing all aspects of dental anxiety ahead of time will ensure the best possible outcomes for the patient.

-Medication. Many patients do very well taking a pre visit valium to relax themselves and remove excess dental anxiety. It will also allow the anesthesia to work more effectively during the visit because you are so relaxed.

-Distraction. Use of an ipod, to listen to music during your dental visits places your mind in a relaxed state. It helps to drown out unwanted noise.

What Does It All Mean?

Many redheads will present with increased dental anxiety as well as be more resistant to local anesthesia. So, both dentist and patient need to be aware of these situations. A dentist armed with this knowledge will approach these patients differently and ask specific questions about past anesthesia issues, as well as past dental anxiety and experiences. You do not have to have red hair to experience dental anxiety or have difficulty getting numb. There are many ways to address both problems  and overcome them with proper techniques and good communication.