As a dentist in Shelby Township, MI, I have devoted much training and commitment to helping those who have dental fear. As a matter of fact, our office has a widespread reputation for our gentle touch and unique commitment to those who struggle with dental fears. In addition to a staff who are especially sensitive to fearful patients, we have incorporated an array of advanced technology that maximizes comfort while minimizing time in treatment and speeds healing.
Fear is a normal reaction. It is the brain’s way of helping to protect us from something that doesn’t feel right. One of the most common of all fears, dental fear is ranked 4th among common fears and 9th among intense fears. Despite advancements in techniques and technology that optimize comfort, fear of dentistry has remained at a relatively constant level over the past 50 years.
While our office provides special considerations for fearful patients, they only help once the patient has been able to come in for treatment. Many people have a level of dental fear that motivates them to delay or avoid going to the dentist unless a problem forces them to go. A certain percentage of these adults have fear to such an extent that they have physical reactions just thinking about a dentist’s office.
Before even entering a dental office, some with high levels of dental fear may experience rapid breathing, increased heart rates, perspiring or even cry. These are often in the category of “dental phobics.” It’s not unusual for these individuals to be forced into an urgent care center or emergency room from such intense pain that’s precipitated by dental fear.
First, understand that having fear or anxiety associated with dental care does not mean there is anything wrong with you. Quite frankly, you are in good company. More common than not, an estimated 75% of American adults have some level of fear or anxiety associated with dentistry.
Dental fear can affect anyone with no particular age group more susceptible than another. An October 2022 article published in the Journal of Family Medicine & Primary Care shares the feedback from one study of 1,358 individuals. In it, they assessed ages 18 years and over (52% male and 48% female) and found the top triggers or contributors of dental fear included:
#1 Sounds of a drill
#2 Fear of experiencing pain
In the study, it was noted that both genders responded similarly to dental fear with age not having a significant role.
In a prior study, other fear triggers were #3 chemical smells, #4 fear of being stuck in the dental chair, and feeling afraid of #5 having to keep their mouth open for lengthy periods.
It’s normal that even patients without dental fears can feel anxious at times. Being positioned on your back on a narrow surface can make anyone feel vulnerable. Added to that? The mouth’s interior is a sensitive area. When you open your mouth for another person to prod around using pointed instruments without knowing what they’re doing, even relaxed patients can be poised for potential pricks.
However, here is the Catch 22* – people who avoid dental visits because of sounds of a drill or fear of pain are actually placing themselves as far more likely for these. This is because they typically end up requiring more involved treatment as a result. (*This term comes from the 1961 book that made the phrase common slang for: a situation where one is trapped by two contradictory conditions).
In truth, people with dental fear also end up paying a higher price for avoiding dental care. Compromised oral health increases the need for more-complex treatment, treatment that may have been avoided in the first place through regular dental care.
As a dentist for over 25 years, I’ve seen a great many patients who have acquired gum disease or lost teeth due to the grips of dental fear. Many endure pain for weeks to avoid having treatment. Yet, no problem in the mouth that causes pain is going to repair on its own.
When it comes to perceived pain, it can be nearly as real to some people as actual pain. Perceived pain is the brain relaying that actual pain is eminent. In our Macomb County dental office, we understand that perceived pain can be just as real as actual pain. Until the patient develops a sense of trust with their caregiver, they tend to anticipate the worst.
It’s a domino effect – when dental care is delayed or avoided due to fear, small problems that could have been prevented (or easily resolved) become big problems. Big problems require more extensive procedures, more expense and more time in treatment. When dental needs become more significant, fearful patients are actually adding to their reasons to dread the dentist.
Too, when regular dental check-ups and cleanings are avoided, the result can lead to periodontal (gum) disease, which is the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss. Periodontal disease occurs when an over-accumulation of oral bacteria become infectious. As it penetrates gum tissues, it also attacks the bone structures below the gums. This disease requires treatment that is more extensive.
Nearly half of Americans ages 30 or older (47.3%) have some level of gum disease. Periodontitis, an advanced level of gum disease, is the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss. The devastation doesn’t stop with the oral cavity. The inflammatory bacteria of gum disease have also been associated with a long list of health problems.
Because of the potency of these infectious bacteria, deeper studies in the medical and scientific communities are closely following the various reactions in the body. In some cases, the bacteria can trigger the onset of certain conditions or diseases. In others, it worsens health problems already present. These include:
• heart disease
• Alzheimer’s disease
• high blood pressure
• some cancers
• pre-term babies
• erectile dysfunction (ED)
Remember, delay can result in more treatment, more expense and more time. It’s important to know, too, to watch for any signs of periodontal (gum) disease, which include:
• tender and/or swollen gums
• seeing blood in the sink from brushing teeth
• frequent bad breath
• gums that turn red in color versus a healthy pink
• gums that recede from teeth, exposing sensitive root areas
Be aware, too, that gum disease can exist with no obvious symptoms.
I am very proud of the relationship of trust I have with our patients. They know our goal is to NEVER cause them discomfort. Although we cannot always guarantee they’ll have no discomfort at all, we consistently take extra steps to provide optimal comfort at every visit. This is why we offer oral sedation and I.V. sedation (also referred to as “twilight sleep”) for patients who desire added relaxation throughout their visit.
Oral and I.V. sedation are delivered safely with sedated patients monitored throughout procedures. They are overseen by trained staff who use advanced safety equipment.
The difference between the two sedatives are…
• In pill form, ORAL SEDATION is taken once arriving to our office. Rather quickly, you will begin to feel very relaxed. You are seated in a comfortable treatment chair and covered with a blanket as the pill takes full effect. You may doze off but will remain able to respond to questions. After treatment, you will begin to recover rather quickly. Typically, patients have very little memory of treatment.
• I.V. SEDATION (twilight sleep) provides a deeper level of sedation than Oral Sedation. Although it has a longer recovery period, this form of “sleep dentistry” is ideal for high fear patients or those who have more complex treatment needs. This also erases complete memory of treatment afterwards, which many patients prefer.
In addition to sedation, we enhance comfort with options such as topical numbing before injections and ergonomically-designed treatment chairs. These features help to relax patients and make them more comfortable throughout any procedure.
Additionally, we have found that certain features help patients with dental fears or anxiety. These include:
ON-TIME APPOINTMENTS: A long wait in a reception area can allow anxiety to build. We are committed to seeing patients within 10 minutes of their appointed time and our track record is excellent.
IN-CHAIR RELAXATION OPTIONS: While in the treatment chair, our patients can listen to their favorite music or watch a movie during treatment, helping to take the focus off their procedure.
THOROUGH COMMUNICATION: In addition to being communicative of what’s taking place in their mouths, we keep patients informed through the aid of monitors that show images of areas being treated.
COMMITTED TEAM: Our entire office is totally united when it comes to a welcoming, respectful, and compassionate environment for patients, especially those with dental fears. Here, you’ll enjoy a setting where your concerns are truly respected in a ‘lecture free’ zone.
Bottom line is this: when you form a sense of trust in our care from positive experiences at each visit, our goal to provide optimal comfort will be clear and concise. Choosing a dentist that is right for you begins with trust.
For some, just making the appointment and getting in the door is a challenging process. Before calling our Shelby Township dental office, two short videos you may enjoy are:
Dr. Barbat – Sedation Dentistry
Dr. Barbat – Advanced Technology
Fearful individuals benefit from moving at a pace that is appropriate for their needs. However, rather than have a painful event force you into our dental office, you are invited to begin with a booklet that serves as a guide. (Download at: DrBarbat DentalFear eBook)
Dental fear is nothing to be ashamed of or too embarrassing to discuss with any member of our team. Some people prefer to begin with a private consultation. There is no charge for this time. To schedule, call: 586-739-2155 or tap here.
We look forward to seeing you!