Dentists learn very early in their careers that many patients experience a considerable amount of dental anxiety. The phrase “Nothin’ personal Doc, but I hate dentists” is so common that there is a book by that title. The book is actually a helpful resource for patients dealing with dental anxiety. When I am asked, “What do you do for a living?” I am often tempted to make up a different, less fear-invoking profession. Recently, I did a search on Twitter for the word “dentist” hoping to find some colleagues to interact with there. What I found instead was a long list of tweets with the phrase “I hate the dentist.”

Hating the dentist can lead to a vicious cycle in which fearful patients avoid the dental office and routine cleanings only to visit when they are in a large amount of pain and will need more intensive treatment. Regular dental check-ups and early detection of decay can help patients avoid the need for the treatments they fear the most. As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, healthy teeth and gums can impact your overall health making it more important to take part in routine cleanings.

There is hope for patients who fear the dentist. New techniques in dentistry allow for less pain and less drilling. Anesthetic shots can be given without pain. Through the use of a numbing swab and proper manipulation, these dental anesthetics do not have to be painful. Patients often tell me they did not even know they received a shot. My young nephew who has needed a tooth extracted and several fillings swears that he has never had a shot in my office. Of course, as a loving uncle I have given him shots with these procedures. Tooth-colored composite fillings require less drilling and removal of the tooth structure in order to place the filling. These procedures are quicker, less drill intensive, and less uncomfortable.

More dentists are making an effort to design their offices and train their staff to alleviate the fears that arise when first walking into a dental office. For patients who had troubling experiences at the dentist when they were younger just the sight or smell of a dental office can raise their anxiety level. Dentists are becoming more aware of techniques to help patients deal with the sensory issues that might elicit a fear response by masking smells, decorating peaceful offices and offering movie goggles or earphones.

Some dentists offer sedation techniques to calm their most anxious patients. These techniques include taking a calming medication before the appointment, nitrous oxide use during the appointment, or a light sedation during procedures. It is very important to share your complete health history with your dentist prior to requesting one of these techniques.

Visiting the dentist does not have to be a fearful experience. It is a good idea to share with your new dentist that you are anxious about your appointment and to be pro-active in figuring out ways to reduce your anxiety. You can find more helpful information about dealing with dental anxiety online. WebMD provides a short video on sedation dentistry. This short article posing the question “Is Sedation the Answer?” gives a brief overview as well.