Dental Anxiety & Fear
All conscious life forms experience fear. It’s natural and normal.
Humans are born almost helpless, and we’re naturally afraid and experience anxiety about this condition. If you can’t remember, just try to imagine the vulnerability human infants must feel -- never quite sure if the presence coming out of the shadows is mom with food or a wolf coming to eat us.
As we grow, however, we’re often comforted by our caretakers and learn to experience trust. We don’t all have trustworthy caretakers at all times, however, and may develop a lifelong struggle with trusting people and situations.
Either way, having some trust in people doesn’t mean that our built-in anxiety goes away. We have to learn to balance fear and anxiety with the comfort that comes from our trusting relationships with some people.
The Limbic Region Of The Brain
Our mammal brains have three sections:
The reptilian section that controls the function of our organs and allows us to react appropriately to danger. It also allows us to procreate by acting sexually.
- The limbic section surrounds the reptilian brain and makes emotions that allow us to form relationships with our mothers and other caretakers. Reptiles are indifferent to others -- even their offspring -- but mammals form close relationships that assist in our survival and help us feel more secure.
- The cortex is the section only present in higher mammals that allows us to perform higher-thinking skills beyond what lower mammals can do.
Understanding these three sections of the brain proves that we humans are hard-coded to form relationships with other people for survival purposes and to gain the peace of mind that comes along with established trust.
People who successfully find nurturing presences in their lives are the lucky ones. Most of us, however, have less than idyllic lives that involve multiple occasions when trust is broken -- and therefore we feel anxiety and fear more than we should.
For many people, going to the dentist has previously been something that has increased fear. When we trust a dentist and get pain in return, we experience fear from the pain itself and also experience an erosion of our trust in the ability of dentists to do what’s right.
When both the patient and the dentist understand how this dynamic works, a patient can have the courage to seek a dentist that’s trustworthy and committed to not hurting them. A dentist can also make a commitment to doing things differently and avoiding hurting his patients.
But what can a dentist do to avoid hurting patients?
Proper Treatment Of Patients With Dental Anxiety
In years past, the nature of dental equipment and materials made a painless experience nearly impossible. And preventing or healing dental phobia was practically impossible. Painful anesthetic was usually needed, the needles were large and traumatic and nothing seemed to work to the advantage of fearful patients.
But times have changed. With the invention of lasers, micro-abrasion and low-heat electric motors, many dental procedures can be completed without injections. When anesthetic is needed, special atraumatic needles can be used along with powerful gel anesthetics and pH-neutral preparations that are warmed up to around body temperature -- all things that make this necessary part of some dental treatments nearly painless when done right.
Often, a patient feels nothing when an anesthetic is used, and anything patients do feel is usually just brief discomfort, not actual pain.
Most important to treating fearful patients, however, is that the dentist develop a full understanding of just how devastating hurting a patient can be to the patient’s mental state as well as their physical health. That’s why slowing down, getting to know a patient and his or her needs can contribute positively to regaining trust.
In this office, there are three rules we don’t break:
- Communication: A patient can raise their left arm anytime there is discomfort or any reason why the procedure should stop. We always stop and deal with patient needs and requests. We also tell patients in advance what we’ll be doing -- if they want to know -- so there aren’t any surprises. The patient is a partner in the treatment process, not a bystander.
- We never hurt our patients.
- It’s important enough to say it twice: we never hurt our patients.
Dental Phobia Is Our Specialty
If you have dental fear, you’re not alone. Many people do. We take great price in doing what we can to alleviate dental anxiety. Each time we painlessly complete a procedure for a patient with dental anxiety issues, we help to establish in that patient’s mind and in the wider population the idea that dentistry doesn’t have to be traumatic.
One patient at a time, we’re allowing fearful patients to take control of their animal minds and regain the trust and confidence that allows them to hold their heads higher -- with brighter, more beautiful smiles. That gives us great satisfaction.
If you have some anxiety about coming to the dentist, call (619) 640-5100 for a free consultation withDr. Paige Woods, DDS