Fear is not a bad thing. It’s our brain signaling a warning to us. For example, when we see a snake, it causes us to react so we can protect ourselves. When we are on a roller coaster, fear causes us to grip tightly to the safety bar.
Personally, I have a fear of dogs. Yes, I know that millions of people have sweet, loving pets, but it is an ingrained fear that will always hover me. I see cute, little puppies and service dogs so loyal they’d risk their lives for their owners, but I can’t seem to shake my uncontrollable reaction whenever I see one.
So, when it comes to people who struggle with dental fears, I get it!
Although I’m able to avoid contact with dogs, for the most part, my own fear isn’t detrimental to my health. However, dental fear can work against people when it prevents them from having dental care. Your oral health plays an important role in your overall health. Additionally, your smile affects your self-esteem and self-confidence.
For people who have anxiety or mild fears associated with dentistry, many are able to have regular care and necessary treatment. Even though they may dread their visits or be antsy throughout, this level of fear typically doesn’t interfere with their ability to enjoy a confident smile.
The people who become victims of their own fear are those who avoid or delay much-needed dental visits, often until something becomes painful. This too commonly means that a problem that may have been easily avoided with regular dental check-ups has evolved into something more complex.
The treatment required to resolve a painful dental problem – such as a cavity or abscess – is more involved than what regular cleanings may have prevented. This simply amplifies the association between one’s fear of being in pain and the reality that a procedure in a tender, sensitive mouth is necessary.
When I meet a new patient who has avoided care due to dental fear, I often hear that the individual’s fear was born of a traumatic experience in the past. Many times, I learn that, as a child, the patient felt helpless as a too-rough dentist performed dentistry in spite of their pleas. I also hear people share experiences where a dentist continued to work on them even though they were clearly not numb.
To me, a dentist who plows through a procedure when they know their patient is obviously in pain is no better than someone who would intentionally harm a helpless animal. As modern dental techniques and technology have advanced to provide optimal patient comfort, these dentists are hopefully becoming fewer. And good riddance!
Yet, when a person who now has a deep-seated fear associated with dentistry needs care, how do we help them get past these fears to achieve it?
In our Shelby Township dental office, we’ve helped hundreds of once fearful patients not only have the dental care they need, many have overcome their fears – for good! I’ve spent decades providing a particular emphasis on patient comfort and have surrounded myself with staff members who are equally committed to providing optimal care with a gentle, caring touch.
We also offer both oral and I.V. sedation. IV sedation is also referred to as “twilight sleep” and high-fear patients often opt for that when a dental procedure is needed. For most fear levels, however, we find that oral sedation is sufficient in creating a sense of relaxation that eases patients through treatment in a comfortable manner.
Like IV sedation, oral sedation creates an amnesiac effect. This means that it erases most, if not all, of any memory of the procedure afterwards. For example, after the patient recovers, that may recall hearing my voice a time or two, but most people tell me they remember nothing at all.
Oral sedation also has a quicker recovery than I.V. sedation. Some people go home and take a brief nap after having oral sedation, but are typically “back to normal” by that evening. For I.V. sedation, we advise the patient to allow for a 24-hour recovery period since it is a deeper type of sedative.
While we may recommend oral sedation, some high-fear patients prefer to start with I.V. sedation. I’ve been told by some that “I want to be knocked out for the entire procedure.” And, IV sedation provides that. It is available as-needed and can accompany any procedure. We respect the patient’s choice.
Although we are very attuned to creating optimal comfort for all patients, we take special measures for sedated patients. Each is attended by specially trained staff members who use advanced safety equipment to monitor them throughout their care. Your safety is just as important to us as your comfort.
Keep in mind that, regardless of the sedation you choose, we still administer numbing medications to the area(s) being treated. We just wait until you are relaxed and comfy before any injections are administered. For some fearful patients, the numbing injections are the worst part! While under either sedation, you’ll be unaware of these being administered.
Over the years, I’ve developed a reputation for “painless” injections. My patients are often surprised to realize they’ve been injected until they open their eyes and realize I’m through! This is possible because I go slowly and take measures that ensure a comfortable path to the site. We also place a swab with topical numbing medication to the site before the injection occurs.
Even though I take great pride in my reputation, I also realize that fearful patients need more than a gentle touch. They need a dental team who takes their concerns seriously, respects their unique needs, and provides compassion in all they do. From the results we’ve seen our formerly-fearful patients achieve, I believe that is what we deliver.
Earlier this year, I authored a booklet for people who have various levels of dental fear. “Guide For The Fearful Dental Patient” is downloadable at this link and I encourage you to read it or share it with another it could help:
For some people, just calling a dental office triggers fearful reactions, such as sweating or more-rapid heartbeat. Our phone staff is just as attuned to addressing the needs of fearful patients as our clinical staff and can answer your questions patiently and kindly. Before calling, you may want to begin by viewing a tour of our office at:
We also have a video of patients who share their own experiences in our office. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHmFGJpEOe4)
When you’re ready, call and ask about a no-charge, no obligation consultation appointment. This visit takes place in a room that is away from our treatment rooms. We won’t ask you to sit in a treatment chair until you are ready. We’ll begin in this private, comfy room with a friendly conversation. From there, you can decide how you wish to proceed.
The needs of fearful dental patients are varied; everyone is different. What I wish for you is to be able to enjoy good oral health and a smile you love to share, wherever the right “dental home” is for you. Call 586-739-2155 when you’re ready or tap here to begin.