Do you put off seeking dental treatment because the thought of sitting in the dentist’s chair leaves you cold with fear? Do the sounds and smells of a dental practice send your heart into palpitations? Are you struggling with toothache but suffering silence rather than booking an appointment with a dentist?
As a private dentist in Grantham, we have spent a great deal of time and resources exploring dental anxiety and how it impacts on people from all walks of life. Figures from the NHS Information Centre back in 2009 showed that 12% of people in the UK don’t see the dentist because of anxiety or fear, while figures from the British Dental Health Foundation back this up, stating that a staggering 36% of the people who don’t attend regular dental check-ups are held back by dental phobia.
Why is the idea of visiting the dentist so frightening?
Unfortunately, some people associate visiting the dentist with inevitable pain, fillings or even extractions. In fact, the opposite is true. People who attend regular check-ups are far less likely to develop problems because we can help keep their level of dental hygiene high, and detect and prevent issues before they occur.
Research would also suggest that people with high levels of anxiety experience four times the level of pain than someone who is not worried about visiting the dentist. This would suggest a cycle of believing that dental treatment will hurt, even with anaesthesia, means it does hurt. One of our jobs as dentists is to break that cycle.
A study in Japan found that people with dental anxiety process the sounds of a dental practice differently to less anxious patients. In the study, people were given a questionnaire about their attitudes towards visiting the dentist and placed in low or high anxiety groups. They were then put in a room where their visual and verbal responses to the sounds of dental drills and suction instruments couldn’t be monitored but were instead tracked through brain activity. In low-fear patients, the auditory areas of the brain became more active, taking in the sounds, but the response was fairly neutral. In anxious patients, the noises were processed by parts of the brain responsible for learning and long-term memory, suggesting that the sounds were already deeply embedded thanks to past experiences and associations.
In many cases, people develop dental anxiety when their parents have repeatedly expressed a fear of the dentist, again suggesting that the fear has been stored in their learning since childhood. Even repeatedly telling a child not to be scared can be enough to make them think, “I wasn’t scared before but why is everyone telling me not to be scared? There must be something frightening at the dentist’s”.
But what can we dentists do to help?
The studies above, and others in a similar vein, would all suggest that, if dental sounds are processed in the learning parts of the brain, techniques such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) might be able to change and minimise the impact of dental phobias, allowing sufferers to get the dental care they need and deserve.
Here at the Dental Health Centre, we talk to patients about distraction and relaxation techniques designed to take their focus away from the sounds of the practice. For some, bringing in their own music or ebooks can be enough to block out the sounds of any instruments.
We’re also happy to chat to you during a separate appointment about every aspect of your treatment, so you know what to expect at each stage. It can be helpful to know what instrument we’re using and why, and hearing how it will sound before you sit in the dentist’s chair.
If you’re someone who’s worried about dental pain or anaesthetic injections, you may find it helpful to know that we use Vibraject injections, which are much more comfortable than traditional oral injections and can provide a genuinely pain-free dental aesthetic.
We have also invested in CEREC, which is a system that lets us design, create and fit dental crowns and veneers in a single appointment to keep your time in the dentist’s chair to a minimum.
Above all, we believe that everyone should have the best possible dental care. People with dental phobias often hold off seeking treatment until a problem has escalated to the point that they are in a great deal of pain or a tooth is beyond repair. By reaching out to our local community as a private dentist in Grantham and by providing a caring, listening ear for nervous patients, as well as practical solutions, we hope we can encourage people to visit us before they need any significant treatment so that they can enjoy their natural, healthy teeth for the rest of their lives.
If you’re a nervous patient looking for a private dentist in Grantham who will support you to overcome your anxiety or dental phobia, call us on 01476 594480 and we’ll be happy to talk to you about how we can help.