Dental Anxiety: Addressing Concerns and Treatment Options with Patients

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While visiting the dentist is crucial for maintaining optimal oral health, many patients struggle with dental anxiety. Unfortunately, this may result in them delaying or avoiding dental work, which can lead to pain, oral health issues, and more complex and costly procedures. 

In this blog, we will cover the differences between dental anxiety and dental phobia, as well as how to ease dental anxiety among your patients. 

Dental Anxiety vs. Dental Phobia 

Dental anxiety and dental phobia are both used to describe feelings of uneasiness and fear associated with dental treatments. However, they differ widely in intensity and impact on the patient’s life. Let’s break down the differences between dental anxiety and dental phobia. 

  • Dental anxiety is a common phenomenon, with almost 40% of people experiencing some degree of it. It refers to uneasiness or nervousness before or during dental procedures. People with dental anxiety may feel apprehensive, but they can usually go through with dental appointments. The patient’s anxiety might stem from a fear of pain, needles, the dental office, or previous experiences. While dental anxiety can be uncomfortable, it rarely leads to avoiding dental care altogether and is manageable through dental anxiety treatment options. 
  • Dental phobia, or dentophobia, is a more severe condition characterized by an intense and irrational fear of dentists or dental procedures. Roughly 12% of the population has extreme dental fear. Patients with dental phobia often experience extreme anxiety, panic attacks, and even physical anxiety symptoms at the thought of visiting the dentist. As a result, patients with dental phobia may go to great lengths to avoid dental care, which can lead to serious oral health issues. 

In sum, dental anxiety is the general feeling of unease and nervousness related to dental treatment, while dental phobia is a more severe condition that often leads to avoidance of necessary dental care. While dental professionals should be knowledgeable about both conditions to provide exceptional dental care, individuals with dental phobia are usually advised to seek professional help to manage their fears.

Dental Anxiety Treatment Options 

If you notice any of your patients exhibiting signs of dental anxiety, it can be helpful to provide patient education about different dental anxiety treatment options.

  • Open Communication: Encourage open communication between you and your patients. Explain to them in detail what the procedure is, the instruments that will be used, and what the steps are. This can help ease patients’ anxiety and create a better experience. 
  • Desensitization: This form of dental anxiety treatment allows patients to be acquainted with a dental practice and the treatment slowly. If your patient struggles with dental anxiety, suggest a consultation or simple procedure to begin with, and then gradually work your way up to more complex procedures. 
  • IV Sedation: This type of conscious sedation is designed to help patients feel more relaxed and minimize awareness during dental procedures. By administering mild sedation, patients can remain more comfortable during the procedure. It’s crucial to emphasize the significance of adhering to pre-and post-procedure care instructions. Educating your patients and conducting post-visit follow-ups are imperative steps to ensure patient well-being and satisfaction. 
  • Oral Anti-anxiety Medications: Anti-anxiety medications can also be helpful for patients with dental anxiety. This option decreases activity in the patient’s brain related to fear and anxiety. While this option doesn’t necessarily decrease sensitivity, it keeps patients calm and reduces nervousness. 
  • Nitrous Oxide: This gas induces a state of relaxation while reducing sensitivity to pain. Opting for nitrous oxide has a significant advantage over IV sedation, as the effects dissipate within minutes of the dental procedure ending. This allows patients to drive themselves home after procedures and minimizes the amount of post-operative instructions.

Clearly, understanding and addressing dental anxiety among your patients is crucial for ensuring proper oral health. Additionally, knowing the differences between dental anxiety and dental phobia allows for tailored approaches to help patients manage their fears.