Dental anxiety: What it is and how it can be treated

Going to the dentist doesn't have be something you dread.

Feeling a little bit nervous or apprehensive before a dental appointment, especially if it's something substantial such as a canal procedure, is fairly normal for everyone. For some however, dental anxiety can prevent them from going to the dentist at all, which has serious implications for oral health. The Australian Dental Journal found that around 16 per cent of all Australians are scared of going to the dentist, demonstrating that dental anxiety is a widespread issue.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends visiting the dentist on a regular basis to catch potential issues before they become problematic but for those with fear, this may not be an option.

Fortunately, there are ways to treat dental anxiety and ensure that even those affected are able to obtain care.

Do you have dental anxiety?

Dentistry has for many years had negative connotations as something painful, and even gruesome, that everyone has to endure. Today, with modern technology and medicine available, most dental procedures are relatively painless, quick and involve minimal recovery. However, the reputation has endured and contributes to fear surrounding the issue.

Dental anxiety can prevent  people from getting essential treatments.Dental anxiety can prevent people from getting essential treatments.

While many people may experience dental anxiety at some points, dental phobia is something more serious. The defining feature of dental phobia is that the patient's fear is greatly exaggerated in comparison to the actual risk of the procedure.

Patients with dental phobia will go out of their way to avoid dental appointments and may experience such symptoms as being unable to sleep, nausea before the appointment and feeling like it is difficult to breath when instruments are placed in their mouth.

Dental anxiety can be based on a number of different fears including fear of pain, fear of the anaesthetic not working and even simple fear of losing control.

What if my child has dental anxiety?

Adults aren't the only ones who might experience fear of the dentist; the Australian Dental Journal found that around 10 per cent of all Australian children have dental anxiety. However, the reasons behind these fears in children might be slightly different than those in adults.

Whereas adult dental anxiety is often caused by the memory of a particularly negative dental experience, children have very few of these experiences to dwell on. Instead, an article in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that child dental anxiety is more often due to subjective fears and a more general trepidation of the unknown.

Around 16 per cent of all Australians are scared of going to the dentist.

To treat dental anxiety in young ones, you can start out by seeking out an office that gives special attention to dentistry for children. These dentists will be better able to make your child more comfortable by explaining exactly what the procedures entail and framing it positively. Other strategies that can help to alleviate dental fears in children are deep-breathing exercises, distraction and positive reinforcement post-appointment by offering rewards.

I'm absolutely terrified of going to the dentist but I need treatment. What should I do?

For those who are prevented completely from going to the dentist for important treatments by their anxiety, sedation dentistry may offer some relief.

Almost all procedures can be done using sedation dentistry, which involves injecting a sedative similar in strength to Valium into the arm, causing the patient to relax completely but still be conscious and able to answer questions. Sedation dentistry has the added benefit of often being able to combine multiple treatments in one visit so that you don't need to return to the office more than necessary.

To learn more about sedation dentistry and whether it might be a good option for you, contact the team at City Dentists today.