A few years ago — to the surprise of, well, everyone — a polling company revealed that Americans said they enjoyed having a root canal more than they liked the state of politics. It’s a statistic that tickled dentists, too, since most people can be notoriously averse to going to the dentist. In fact, many adults have a fear of dentists that is so severe that it affects their overall dental health. About 15% of Americans have dental anxiety or dental phobia, which comes out to around 40 million Americans.

Phobia vs. Anxiety

dental fear and phobiaThere’s a difference between a dental fear and dental phobia. A fear of the dentist means that simply going to the dentist makes you feel anxious and uncomfortable. Also, a fear is rational because you can usually trace it to something that happened earlier in your life. A phobia, on the other hand, is much less common. It’s extreme and usually not based on any rational reasoning or experience. People suffering from a dental phobia will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid their fear, even at risk of serious consequences like allowing their dental health to deteriorate.

If you have a fear of the dentist you might experience a racing heartbeat or feel shaky or sweaty while waiting for your appointment. You might not feel comfortable when you’re anxious or fearful, but it’s completely normal to feel this way from time to time. If you have a phobia of the dentist, you could experience even more severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, dizziness, fear of fainting,or obsessive and racing thoughts

But here is an interesting fact: Most people who say they have a dental phobia really just have a fear of going to the dentist — or at worst, they’re extremely anxious. Again, all perfectly normal! Finally, telling yourself that you have a phobia doesn’t mean that you actually have one and it won’t escalate your fear into phobia territory.

The good news is that dentists have been treating fearful patients for as long as dentistry has been around and many dentists, like Dr. Conley at Mosaic Dentistry, have a lot of proven techniques for helping patients stay calm, feel less anxious, and experience little if any pain or discomfort.

What are you really afraid of?

Before you reserve your next dentist appointment, you should know what you’re actually nervous about. That way, you don’t have to spend time feeling anxious until it’s time to actually face what causes your fear. Here are the most common reasons patients feel anxious about dental visits.

Pain: Anticipating pain is the number one reason why people dislike going to the dentist or even avoid it altogether. This particular worry typically develops early in life when as kids, our fear of pain is much higher and pain tolerance is significantly lower. If you had just one negative experience, even during a professional dental cleaning, you can carry that moment well into adulthood.

Helplessness: A lot of patients feel helpless while sitting in the dentist’s chair. Especially if they can’t talk or communicate when something hurts or feels uncomfortable. Again, this is a sensation that often starts in childhood because a lot of kids fear telling a grownup to stop or that something doesn’t feel right when they are getting dental treatment done.

Embarrassment: It’s not unusual to feel self-conscious about your appearance, which includes your teeth and the inside of your mouth. Also, if you’ve carried a dental fear with you throughout your adulthood and, as a result, missed cleanings and exams, you may have developed dental problems that caused your teeth to become stained or discolored, or even lose teeth.

Dental tools: Some people freeze up at the sound of the drill. Other people have a physical reaction to being in the dentist’s office and seeing the bibs, gels and tools dentists and hygienists use during cleanings and procedures. And then there’s the needle. We don’t even have to tell you why needles make some people nervous.

Dr. Conley believes she can help change the perception of dentistry for her patients. One of the reasons Dr. Conley pursued a career in dentistry because of her unfavorable experience as a patient when she was young. She can empathize with dental anxiety, because she herself has some too. She tries to do everything in her power to help patients feel relaxed and have a good experience when you’re in her care as she knows better than anyone that you can have a painless and stress-free experience at the dentist. Here are some of the ways Dr. Conley can make your experience more comfortable:

Nitrous oxide: Nitrous oxide gas (also known as laughing gas) is delivered via a nose mask. You feel the full-body relaxation effects quickly and can make you feel like you’re floating on air. Your perception of noises and certain sensations is minimized. Nitrous oxide is very safe and is completely eliminated from your body when the gas is turned off. You would be free to drive and go about your day after your dental visit.

Oral sedation: Oral sedation is a great option for possibly a longer procedure or one that is more involved, like an extraction. An oral medication is given to you in the office which helps to relax you and sometimes make you slightly sleepy, but patients are awake during the entire visit. There are specific instructions we ask patients to follow before and after oral sedation which Dr. Conley reviews with her patients prior to the visit. Oral sedation also can have an amnestic quality where some people don’t always remember everything during the appointment.

Music: Several studies have shown that music reduces stress and pain. And there are even studies proving that the results are real — not the result of a placebo effect, which actual medications have been linked to. In a review of 400 studies, researchers found that music can calm patients better than prescription drugs. Another study demonstrated that when patients listen to music they feel less pain compared to patients who don’t listen to music. At Mosaic, we offer headphones for patients to listen to music of their choice or from our large library of songs.

Heated neck pillow & weighted blanket: Pain and fear of pain can be exacerbated and even increase your anxiety levels when you can’t get comfortable. That’s why Mosaic Dentistry offers patients heated neck pillows and weighted blankets. Dentists say that using a neck pillow helps patients feel less fidgety during treatment, plus heat helps relax muscles and alleviates pressure and pain in the back, hips and neck. A weighted blanket will do more than keep you warm, calm and cozy, they can also help decrease feelings of distress.

Aromatherapy: Dentist offices have a distinct medical-office smell that some folks say make them feel nervous. Researchers have long known that smell, almost more than any other sense, can trigger negative emotions and bad memories. To combat odor-induced fears and help patients stay in a positive headspace, the team at Mosaic Dentistry use aromatherapy, which is a scientifically validated technique for lowering stress levels, increasing feelings of calmness and improving mood. Dr. Conley has gotten great results from using essential oils, like lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint and lemongrass.

If your nerves prevent you from reserving your dental appointments, let us know! Dr. Conley and the team at Mosaic Dentistry are committed to making all of your appointments completely stress-free and pain free!