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Options for treating dental anxiety

submitted by Dr. Michael Spadafora, D.D.S., Bucks County Dental Design

Treating a person with dental anxiety is always a challenge to the conscientious dentist. Luckily, dentists have some tools that they can use with these patients.

Anxiety about going to the dentist can range from a mild feeling of nervousness, to an almost paralyzing fear of walking into the office (or making that first call).

It is important for the dental practitioner to recognize the anxiety and address it in order for the patient to achieve good oral health.

One option is to prescribe a mild relaxing medication (i.e. valium) for the patient to take before leaving home. This is good for dealing with mild to moderate anxiety.

The negative, however, is that the patient will need a driver to get to the appointment and home again.

Upon arriving at the dental office, the patient can be calmed by the use of nitrous oxide, which is breathed through a mask over the nose during treatment.

Nitrous (often call “laughing gas”) is a very effective agent for relaxing the patient and disappears from the patient’s system almost immediately after removing the mask. 

Sedation dentistry is a term that patients often hear in advertising.  This is dentistry done while the patient is in a “twilight sleep” and is accomplished through the use of medication delivered orally and/or intravenously.

Dentists must be specially trained to use this method, but it can be done in the office.

For the most dentally anxious patients, the option of being completely put to sleep (anesthetized) is available.

This option, done in a hospital or hospital-like setting, is the most extreme and is usually used to accomplish a great amount of dentistry at one time. 

Some people subscribe to more natural solutions, such as meditation or hypnosis, instead of, or in addition to, the methods suggested above.