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By Dr. Rob Gausmann, DDS  – Printed January 14, 2013

Q. What can I do to lessen the anxiety I or my child have about going to the dentist?

A.  A visit to the dentist develops different emotions for each person. Many look forward to seeing a familiar face, getting their teeth cleaned, and having a friendly conversation. Kids look forward to the toy they may receive after a good visit! However, dental anxiety is a real emotion felt by many people – even days prior to the appointment.

Many patients face anxiety due to a past experience at a dental office. It is not uncommon to hear traumatic stories that start with: “When I was a kid, my dentist…” Unfortunately, these memories significantly affect a patient’s oral health and comfort when visiting a dental office. Other patients often avoid the dentist for fear of the unknown – what may be happening in their mouth and what treatment may be needed.

A COMFORTABLE PLACE:  The first recommendation for decreasing anxiety is to become familiar with the office and staff. For some, the simple act of walking in the door to a friendly face helps them remember: – “I’ve been hear before… my hygienist was friendly and fun… the filling I received went well.” Patients often comment on how nervous they were the first visit, but how comfortable they are now. Many times a first appointment focusing on information, treatment options and developing a “dental game plan” help lesson a patient’s anxiety.

LAUGHING GAS (NITROUS OXIDE):  Some patients feel very comfortable with the staff yet still have unavoidable anxiety. Many dental offices offer the use of nitrous oxide (commonly called laughing gas). This is a safe gas customized to each patient and breathed in during his or her appointment to promote relaxation. While the patient is breathing the gas, anxiety is reduced and treatment is performed. When treatment is complete, the patient is given pure oxygen to breath and is “back-to-normal” in a matter of minutes. The patient may drive home or return to work.

ORAL SEDATION:  This option for reducing anxiety is for patients who have tried nitrous oxide and still have anxiety. Patients who choose oral sedation take a medication several hours prior to their appointment. This allows the patient to relax completely – often to the point of sleeping – and typically the patient will not remember the appointment. Although the patient is sedated, they are conscious enough to communicate with the dentist, allowing this to be a safe option. Due to the level of sedation, an escort is needed to drive the patient to and from the dental office. In addition, the patient will need to take the day off from any other activities.

ANXIETY IN CHILDREN:  A child’s first visit to the dentist (approximately 2 years of age) often contributes to emotions they may have toward future visits. Creating a positive experience focused on education, familiarization with the office and performing minimal treatment works well with children. Parents can help prepare their child by: brushing their teeth at home, having them practice opening and closing their mouth, reading them stories about going to the dentist and positively instructing them on a dental visit.

For children with a negative past experience, easing them back into routine dental visits where minimal work is performed is a good strategy. Additionally, stressing the importance of good preventative dental care at home will help eliminate future treatment and in turn, lessen anxiety. In cases of extreme fear or appointments where extensive work is to be done, nitrous oxide or oral sedation are both safe options for parents to consider in order to help their children.

Although going to the dental office can be an anxious time for some patients, there are options available to successfully complete treatment and allow for a more pleasurable experience.

Dr. Rob Gausmann, DDS  – Gausmann Family Dental

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