New services could help millions manage dental anxiety

March 5, 2009
Services include full-body massages, virtual reality eyewear.

OAK BROOK, Illinois--Millions of Americans do not like to visit the dentist.

In fact, an estimated 30 to 40 million avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear. In conjunction with Mental Health Month in May, Delta Dental wants to raise awareness about a mental condition that affects many Americans--dental phobia.

"Avoiding the dentist because of fear or phobia may cause an individual's minor untreated dental problems to develop into severe oral health conditions and in rare cases even death," said Max Anderson, DDS, a national oral health advisor for Delta Dental Plans Association.

"It is unfortunate that these individuals may not be receiving the dental care they need. Regular dental cleanings, exams and x-rays and dental treatment services recommended by your dentist are vital to good oral health."

There are many reasons why people develop dental phobia. The most common cause is a traumatic dental experience. Also, children are often influenced by their parents' fears and attitudes towards dental treatment.

Dental phobia may involve fear of dentists, dental procedures, needles or situations that remind the sufferer of a phobic situation. The dentist's drill is often a major factor in these fears.

"People should share their concerns with their dentist or dental hygienist," said Anderson. "The dental team will determine ways to make the exam more comfortable."

If your dentist does not take your fears seriously, you may need to find a dentist who better understands dental phobia. There are ways to work with a dentist to reduce anxiety.

For instance, ask your dentist to explain what is happening during every stage of the exam. Another strategy is to establish a hand signal to let the dentist know when to take a break.

Increasingly, more dental offices offer services that help patients manage their anxiety, including:

* Hand and full-body massages
* Massaging dental chairs
* Paraffin hand waxes
* Relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises
* Virtual reality eyewear
* Headsets with music or calming nature sounds

Other options for extreme dental anxiety and pain reduction include forms of sedation via medications that are administered intravenously, orally or through inhalation such as nitrous oxide.

Since there are risks associated with these various approaches to sedation and anesthesia, talk to your dentist about any special state permit or training program governing these services and which therapy is right for you.

For more information on the nonprofit Delta Dental Plans Association, go to Delta Dental Plans Association.

To read more about Delta Dental Plans Association, go to Delta Dental Plans Association.

To comment on this subject, go to PennWell Dental Community site.

References available from company upon request.