Dental Anxiety: Medications & Techniques to Put Your Mind at Ease

Dental anxieties, fears and phobias are real. And we’re here to help.

If you feel uncomfortable or even anxious at the thought of visiting the dentist, you’re not alone. Dental fear or anxiety is relatively common, but the good news is that we’re here to listen to you – and to help – and there are many ways in which we can do this for you, including sedation options and medications.

Dental anxiety is a term used to describe stress, anxiety, or fear at the thought of any number of dental settings – and it’s relatively common. Dental anxiety can be triggered by a variety of things, such as needles, the sound of drilling, or perhaps the smell of antiseptic.

Far more uncommon are dental phobias, where an individual’s anxiety is so severe and irrational that they cannot, under any circumstances, visit a dental clinic. Any type of dentist phobia requires psychological counselling, often along with medication.

What causes dental anxiety?

People have anxiety for all sorts of reasons. Many of us suffer from some type of mental illness – such as generalised anxiety disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia – and any of these can increase the risk of someone experiencing anxiety that the dentist.

Alternatively, you may not have a mental illness, but perhaps you’ve had a negative experience at the dentist or even a previous non-related trauma (e.g. through accident, assault, sexual abuse) that has given you a dental or dentist anxiety. Some people feel that their mouth is a private space that should not be invaded; others have a fear of losing control or have issues with authority or trust.

When you think of what a dental visit entails – sitting back in a vulnerable position, with a person of authority standing over you, working on your teeth when sometimes you are unable to speak, having your personal space invaded – all these things can trigger anxiety in some people. Fortunately though, at Aria Dental we are fully aware of these issues and can communicate with you thoroughly and slowly to make you feel far more comfortable.

Symptoms of anxiety

  • Racing heartbeat or palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Visible signs of stress – such as crying or panicking
  • Low blood pressure or fainting
  • Withdrawal (expressed as negativity, aggression or humour)

Negative effects on your dental health

Skipping the dentist because you find the idea unsettling is never a good idea. Maintaining good oral health is highly important not just for the sake of your teeth, but your overall physical health. Many studies have shown the link between poor dental health and diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, some cancers and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease.

Further, if you neglect regular preventative dental care or basic dental work such as filling, problems could develop that may become far worse, more expensive – and ironically – require a lot longer in the dentist’s chair.

Managing your dental anxiety

There are many ways we can help with your dental anxiety, and essentially, they fall into two categories: medications and self-care (mental health habits and exercises)

Sedation options for your dental anxiety & phobias

Sedation for minor treatments

At Aria Dental, we offer oral sedation for those who feel nervous about small appointments or procedures, even for simple treatments like fillings.

Oral anti-anxiolytic medication helps to relieve anxiety about dental treatment and doesn’t require any intravenous needles or tubes. You’ll be given a small pill which will make you feel drowsy and has a similar effect to amnesia, so you may not remember much about the procedure. Once you’re comfortable and completely relaxed, our experienced dental team will complete your treatment.

Sedation & sleep dentistry for major dental treatment

Patients requiring dental surgery can choose either oral anti-anxiolytic medication or IV (intravenous) sedation. If you have a significant dental phobia or are on several medications for anxiety, IV sedation may be the better option for you.

IV sedation is also known as ‘sleep dentistry’, ‘twilight sedation’ or ‘conscious sedation.’ The sedative drug is delivered through an injection and is administered by an expert medically-trained doctor. IV conscious sedation is an effective technique for managing moderate to severe dental anxiety.

While not as readily available in most dental clinics, IV sedation is a valuable tool for ensuring complete relaxation during a procedure that you may not ordinarily have had done due to extreme fear.

During the procedure, your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, blood pressure and breathing are closely monitored. Although you may feel as though you are sleeping, you are still conscious and able to follow instructions. However, you are unlikely to remember anything about the procedure.

Which option is best for me?

Here’s a summary of your options, depending on your treatment and level of fear or anxiety:

  • No sedation or only local anaesthetic: suitable for those with no phobia or anxiety undergoing minor, straight-forward surgery
  • Oral sedation: ideal if you have anxiety of any type and are undergoing most types of dental procedures.
  • IV sedation: for individuals with a serious dental phobia (not just anxiety) undergoing any dental procedure, or for individuals suffering any level of anxiety which is undergoing major surgery, such as removing a full arch of teeth.

Simple dental anxiety management techniques

If you have a relatively minor problem with anxiety or would prefer not to take medication, the following exercises and coping techniques may help:

  • meditation
  • deep breathing
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • distraction – watching a video or pictures on a screen
  • hypnosis

If your anxiety is quite severe or you suffer a phobia, a referral to a psychologist may be time well spent. In particular, cognitive behavioural therapy can be excellent for changing your thoughts and reactions to dental work.

We’re here to listen

At Aria Dental, we take all levels of anxiety and phobias seriously and are here to support you and listen to you. So if you have any concerns or anxieties – or past traumas, if you would like to, please talk to us about them. Together, we can work out the best course of action for your treatment so you can remain calm, relaxed while having your treatments performed.

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