It is a vicious circle: We have a fear of the dentist, so we put off regular preventive care, such as cleanings every six months. The result is a cavity, which usually doesn’t hurt until it has reached an advanced case. Now the treatment becomes more serious, perhaps even including a root canal.
The fearful patient visits the dentist and has to undergo a serious procedure, ensuring that the dental phobia persists. Avoiding the dentist, the patient never establishes a regular preventative care routine. And, then there is another toothache and the cycle repeats itself.
Nearly one-quarter of all Americans avoid dentists because they’re afraid, according to the American Dental Association. And the fear comes in many forms. There’s fear of pain, needles or drills. There is fear of blood, gagging, or having personal space violated. There is also fear of getting reprimanded for staying away so long, or not brushing and flossing adequately.
“It is pretty clear right from the start which of our patients are fearful. They squirm in their chair, or break-out in a cold sweat, and jump at the slightest movement,” said Melissa Latham, a hygienist at Shelton Dental Center.
Luckily, there are easy solutions for patients that experience this very common phenomenon.
“At both our Shelton and Elma locations we have great options for fearful patients, such as administering nitrous oxide or prescribing conscious sedation,” said Latham.
Nitrous oxide sedation (commonly known as “laughing gas”) involves the patient breathing in an odorless gas. Nitrous oxide causes the patient to relax enough for the hygienist and dentist to complete the procedure.
Other patients need additional sedation, and Shelton Dental Center and Elma Family Dental offer what they refer to as “conscious sedation”.
First, Dr. Ketcher or Dr. Edwards, the dentists at Shelton Dental Center, write two prescriptions: Valium to reduce anxiety, and Triazolam to help the patient remain calm and relaxed during the procedure. The patient is instructed to take a Valium the night before the procedure, then to take the Triazolam the morning of the procedure and a second pill right before the procedure.
Patients must have transportation to and from the office when choosing this option. In most cases conscious sedation reduces the patient’s anxiety so they can receive the necessary dental care and avoid more serious oral health issues.
There are also simple non-drug methods that both offices uses to calm patients, such as encouraging the patient to listen to music on headphones to tone out dental instrument noises. The patient is also encouraged to squeeze a ball to help them relax, which works surprisingly well for a lot of patients. “We also work very hard to monitor the body language of our patients. We can quickly tell if they are uncomfortable, so we are able to stop what we are doing, check in with them before moving on. Often a patient is able to relax once we’ve established trust,” said Latham.
Individuals looking for additional information about conscious sedation techniques can call Shelton Dental Center at (360) 426-8401 or Elma Family Dental at (360) 861-8318.