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Dental anxiety

Some people will do just about anything to avoid a visit to the dentist. Dental anxiety is a real problem affecting 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 10 children, however, there are strategies and treatments that dentists can use to help create a calm and comfortable experience.

We have a chat to Health Partners dentist, Dr. Nupur Bhatia about what causes dental anxiety and how dentists can help make your appointment a little more enjoyable.

What is dental anxiety?

“It’s a term that you’d use to describe fear, anxiety or stress in a dental setting. There is also dental phobia which is much more extreme, and much more of a serious problem to manage,” Dr Bhatia says.

Signs or symptoms of dental anxiety

Most people can manage their anxiety when it comes to visiting the dentist, but it doesn’t mean their anxiety symptoms are any less severe.

People with dental anxiety may experience these symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Racing heart or palpitations
  • Low blood pressure and possible fainting
  • Visible distress, crying or signs of panic
  • Using humour or aggression to mask anxiety

Dr Bhatia says most dentists can detect if a patient is feeling anxious when they’re sitting in the chair, however, it’s important to speak up to your dentist and let them know if you’re feeling anxious or fearful of a procedure.

Why do some people suffer from it?

Dr Bhatia says dental anxiety has a lot of contributing factors . The fear of experiencing pain is one of the main reasons people experience anxiety.

“Negative past experiences and the feeling of having a lack of control can also be reasons why some people may feel anxious,” she says.

For those who already suffer anxiety disorders, being in a dental setting can increase the effects of their condition. Agoraphobia (fear of being in situations where you can’t escape), claustrophobia (fear or closed spaces) or obsessive-compulsive disorder can often make visits to the dentist more difficult.

Alternative options to assist with dental anxiety

The use of relaxation and distractions are some of the methods dentists use to make appointments more comfortable for patients.

“The dentist sometimes uses relaxation techniques, reminding people to focus on their breathing, slowly inhaling and exhaling when they can,” Dr Bhatia says.

Progressive muscular relaxation is another technique your dentist might use. This involves tensing and relaxing groups of muscles, starting from your feet and working your way up the body.

Dr Bhatia says some patients bring along music to listen to or watch the TV on the ceiling of the surgery while having procedures done.

What is Nitrous Oxide Sedation and how does it work?

If patients need a little more help to relax during appointments, there is now the option of Nitrous Oxide Sedation (also known as happy gas) at Health Partners Dental.

“Nitrous Oxide Sedation is a conscious sedation method, meaning the patient remains awake during the dental treatment,” says Dr Bhatia

The patient inhales a mix of Nitrous Oxide and Oxygen. Dr Bhatia says it’s a sweet smelling gas that works very quickly to decrease any discomfort and relax the patient.

Happy gas is known to be a very safe pain relief method that both children and adults can use during dental treatments. It must however be administered by a dentist who has undergone additional training.

Dr Bhatia says, “the effects of Nitrous Oxide Sedation are reversed very quickly. At the end of the procedure the patient breathes 100% oxygen for about four to five minutes to flush out the nitrous oxide from their lungs.”

Find out more about Nitrous Oxide Sedation

*Independently conducted research by New Focus Research, November 2018.