Butterflies in your stomach? Heart in your mouth? No, it’s not the sensations you get at a first date that we’re talking about here but rather the mention of a visit to the dentist, be it for a simple scale and polish or for more complex procedures. More often than not, a dental visit triggers some sort of anxiety or unpleasant emotional response in many individuals including but not limited to the following:
– Worrying about the visit the night before the dental exam and having difficulty sleeping.
– Nervousness that escalates while in the waiting room.
– Uneasiness or anxiousness when objects are placed in the mouth during treatment.
– Increased breathing or feeling like it is difficult to breathe during treatment.
Fret not for you can take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. A study done showed that the prevalence of dental anxiety among Singaporeans stands at 8% in males and 20.8% in females. This anxiety acts as a huge barrier and patients try all means to avoid the dreaded trip to the dentist unless they have run out of self-created home remedies to ease that nagging toothache and by that, I mean placing whiskey soaked cotton rolls on the tooth, placing aspirin tablets near the ache or completely avoiding chewing on that side of the mouth. Very often by the time they finally decide that the toothache is too much to bear and make a visit to the dentist, the less stressful and more conservative treatment options are less likely to remain viable. But why leave it to then? Dental practitioners are aware of the high prevalence of anxiety associated with dental treatment and we are increasingly trained to educate and help patients cope in a multitude of ways that have proven to be highly effective.
Patients who experience dental anxiety might find scheduling their appointment earlier on in the day helpful as they will have less time to dwell on the ‘what ifs’ of the treatment. Also, a quick chat with the receptionist can prove to be helpful in scheduling your appointment during a less busy period so that there will be less waiting to allow your nervousness to escalate on the day itself. It also allows more time for the appointment so that it can be paced according to your comfort levels.
SHARING YOUR CONCERNS
Dental practitioners are aware of the relatively high prevalence of dental anxiety among patients during dental treatment, some more intuitive than others at detecting this nervousness but why leave it to chance? Let us know and we can take the appropriate measures to make your dental visit more palatable and predictable!
The environment plays a huge role in inducing dental phobia and minor changes such as placing certain intimidating instruments out of the patient’s line of sight can be done to help put the patient at ease. All you need to do is inform your practitioner of this preference if it makes you feel better.
Distraction from the sounds of dental equipment and procedure itself has also proved to be highly effective in alleviating anxiety in patients. Many people would associate the sound of dental drills with pain. It is more than likely that the patient had previously had a painful dental experience which was accompanied by the sound of a dental instrument and have thus come to associate the sound with pain. You’ll be glad to know that with advances in dental technology and techniques, most dental drills are not as noisy as you remembered them to be and quick and effective anesthetic techniques can also be employed to numb a small area of the oral cavity for up to 2 hours. Distraction from sounds can also be done by requesting for music to be played in the clinic or by watching handheld or mounted display screens available in the clinic. Most practitioners will be able to accede to your request, especially if it makes it easier for them to do what they need to do for you.
Allowing your practitioner to be aware of your anxiety will allow him/her to draw up a treatment plan that would suit your pace and level of comfort. For instance, a visit to the dentist does not necessarily mean jumping straight into drilling or extractions! It can be as simple as a consultation and examination for the first visit. This allows the opportunity for the patient to get acquainted with setting in the clinic and to build a rapport with the dental team. Complex or invasive procedures can then be carried out during subsequent visits when the patient is more comfortable and less overwhelmed by the foreignness of the clinical environment.
A sense of loss of control often evokes some level of anxiety and this applies to the dental treatment setting as well. A combination of being in such close proximity with the dentist, seated on the dental chair, not knowing why there is a need for that prickly instrument to be in your mouth, not being informed about what the dental procedure actually involves, can be unsettling and feel like a loss of control for some. The tell-show-do technique, commonly applied by dental practitioners, can help alleviate much of these worries of loss of control. It simply involves explaining the procedure using less threatening and non-clinical sounding words consistent with the patient’s level of understanding, showing the instruments or procedures to be carried out using diagrams or videos to the patient and then finally carrying out the actual procedure. Working out a simple communication system (e.g. through hand gestures to signal that you are doing fine, or raising your hand whenever you need a break or feel uncomfortable) between yourself and the dentist has also proved to be highly beneficial in helping patients feel that they have relinquished some form of control over the situation.
Ultimately the aim over time is to bring your internal imagery about your dental fears and anxiety closer to the current reality of modern, advanced dental care that is carried out by a caring and empathetic dental team. With trust, time and honesty, many patients can go on to successfully eliminate their dental anxiety or fears and work towards achieving better overall oral and systemic health.