Tips for Patients Who Are Afraid of the Dentist

added on: March 10, 2024

If you’ve been avoiding regular dental appointments, there are reasons other than fear, but that’s a big one. It is estimated that a third of the U.S. population avoids seeing the dentist because of dental anxiety or fear.

There are numerous studies that measure the numbers of fearful dental patients. One research company surveyed over 18,000 people worldwide and found that 61% of those polled admitted to having dental fear with nearly 4% having never been to a dentist. Of these, most cited being afraid of pain, the smell of chemicals and/or the sound of the drill. Some admitted to feeling trapped in a dental chair or the dread of keeping their mouth open for an extended time. Cost was cited by less than 5%.

In another study, 2264 participants (18 years and over with 52% males and 48% females)) completed a questionnaire. Drilling tooth devices and their sounds ranked the highest in causing dental fear among the majority of participants (37.7%) with pain the second most cause (25%). While 70% of participants had pushed aside their fears to get treatment when the pain became annoying, 18% sought treatment with only slight pain. Ten percent sought treatment once they noticed a concerning lesion.

In the study, researchers also found that both genders responded similarly to dental fear and age was not a significant factor.

As a dentist in Shelby Township, I have a long-standing reputation for providing compassionate, gentle care. This has developed because, throughout my 25-plus years as a dentist, I have made patient comfort one of our highest priorities. While I understand that past traumatic dental experiences can have a lifelong impact on one’s ability to relax at a dental office, some patients have a perception of pain even before treatment begins.

Sadly, I’ve seen many patients who have developed gum disease or lost teeth because dental fear kept them from having the care they needed. 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.

Early in my dental practice, I pursued special training to provide oral sedation. In pill form, this form of sedation acts fast to ease the “jitters” of anxious or fearful patients. Under oral sedation, some even doze in and out throughout their procedure. Trained staff oversee each patient throughout the procedure using advanced safety monitoring equipment.

We also offer 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 I.V. 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 (according to my patients). 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 once-fearful patients achieve, I believe that is what we deliver.

There are enormously important reasons to see a dentist for regular dental exams and cleanings. Gum disease is so prevalent in the U.S. that nearly half of adults over the age of 30 have some level of the infectious disease (which is also the leading cause of adult tooth loss).

Periodontitis (advanced gum disease) is a serious gum infection that damages the soft tissue and destroys the bone that supports your teeth. This occurs when toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque irritate the gums. These toxins activate a chronic inflammatory response in which the body turns on itself. This systemic inflammation leads to break down and destruction of tissues and bone that support the teeth.

Gingivitis is the initial stage of periodontal disease. This may have mild symptoms or even some deemed “normal.” These include areas where the gums are tender or seeing blood in the sink when brushing teeth. However, gingivitis, if not halted, can soon progress to periodontal disease and even tooth loss.

Gum disease symptoms include:
• Red or swollen gums
• Gums that bleed when flossing or brushing
• Persistent bad breath
• Gums that loosen from teeth (or “recede”)
• Teeth that may loosen or drift

We begin with a no-charge, private consultation to have an open and relaxed conversation. I’ll listen to your concerns and answer your questions and explain comfort options that should work best for your needs.

Although we offer relaxation medications in addition to a gentle touch (true for our entire team), our patients find that trust is the key to their ability to have the treatment they need. Let us help you overcome your fears or anxiety so you can enjoy the healthy, confident smile you desire.

Remember, delay can result in more treatment, more expense and more time. Call 586-739-2155 or tap here to arrange a no-charge consult soon. Also, you may want to download our “Guide For The Fearful Dental Patient” at: DrBarbatGuide

Too, a brief video tour of our Macomb County dental office is available at: DrBarbatOfficeTour



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Dr. Ban R. Barbat

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