Dentistry is so much about interacting; it's about human behavior. Have you ever come across a patient who would walk into the operatory and be so upset he/she would start to cry and say, ‘I can't do this’?
Anxiety is one of the most common problems psychologists see in the dental arena.
CAUSES OF DENTAL FEAR:
- Bad childhood experiences.
- Other fears, such as being trapped, getting an injection, seeing blood or having your personal space invaded.
- Anxious family members can be passing on the idea that dentistry is scary.
- Popular media depictions of dental visits.
- A gene variant that may contribute to heightened pain sensitivity and thus dental anxiety.
An area that is largely overlooked in the dental community is the sensory experience of the patient. The sights, smells, sound, and general intimacy of the dental experience assaults the sensory system from almost every angle. This leaves many people unsure as to why they dislike receiving dental care; their body just tells them it isn’t pleasant.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON FEARS THAT PATIENT HAVE?
- Embarrassment and shame
- Fear of not having control
- Fear of not getting numb
- Fear of choking or gagging
- Fear of allergic reactions
- Fear of unnecessary treatment
- Fear of not being able to cope with the news of what needs to be done etc
WAYS TO COMBAT DENTAL ANXIETY:
- Various forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy,
- Relaxation techniques,
- Musical distraction,
- Lavender oil. etc
If your goal is simply to make it through the procedure, taking a tranquilizer is OK, says Heimberg, Psychology professor, Ph.D. of Temple University. But, he says, if the goal is to empower patients so that routine dental care can become just that, "the medical approach doesn't have as much going for it."
In order to have a positive effect on the sensory system, it is important to understand what aspect of dental treatment triggers an anxious response. Patients often say the noise of the dental drill is bothersome. In these cases, noise-canceling headphones can help. Other patients may report that the smell of a tooth being drilled is off-putting. Using essential oils on the patient’s bib can help reduce that negative sensory experience.
The way in which providers communicate with patients can also elicit anxious feelings. Whenever possible, place yourself at the same eye level when talking directly with patients or when having in-depth conversations.
During treatment, it can be helpful to offer warnings for when patients may feel pressure, taste anesthetic, etc., so they are not surprised as a new sensation arises.
Calming the sensory system allows patients to open their bodies more, which can make them easier to treat. Imagine the body language of an anxious person—clenching muscles, fists in balls, and crunching inward. A relaxed body is expansive, open, and loose. This makes for easier anesthetic blocks, an improved view of the oral cavity, and more efficient delivery of care. Plus you get a loyal patient for a lifetime. It’s a total win-win!
- Runkle, Ken. The business of dentistry. Dental Economics. January 1, 2011. Accessed March 26, 2020. https://www.dentaleconomics.com/practice/article/16394720/the-business-of-dentistry
- Foley KE. So many people are afraid of going to the dentist psychologists don’t know how to quantify it. Quartz Media. March 8, 2017. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://qz.com/926892/so-many-people-are-afraid-of-going-to-the-dentist-psychologists-dont-know-how-to-quantify-it/
- Aday J, Carlson JM. Neural mechanisms of emotions and affect. In: Jeon M, ed. Emotions and Affect in Human Factors and Human-Computer Interaction. Elsevier; 2017. Accessed March 26, 2020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/sensory-systems