In a recent European study of dental fear and phobia relative to ten other common fears, findings ranked dental fear fourth behind fear of snakes, heights, and severe physical injuries. Among phobias, dental phobia was the most common, followed by height phobia and spider phobia. Fear of dental treatment was more prevalent in women with a severity higher than any other fear included in the study. U.S. statistics estimate 9-15% of Americans suffer from dental phobia, but William S. Darr, DDS offers sedation dentistry.
There are many reasons people fear the dentist. Some have had bad past experiences that affected them enough avoid allowing another dentist the opportunity to repeat that trauma. Some don’t like the thought of being trapped in a chair with machines and people coming at them. Dental fears and phobia are very common, and happen for many different reasons:
Sedation dentistry uses medication to help patients relax during dental procedures. Sometimes it is called “sleep dentistry”, but that name is not entirely accurate—patients remain generally awake unless under general anesthesia, which is administered by an anesthesiologist. However, some patients do relax enough to fall asleep on their own.
Nitrous oxide, sometimes called “nitrous” or “laughing gas”, has been used in dentistry and surgery since about 1844. Nitrous oxide use does not make patients unconscious, but it can be helpful for relaxation in the dentist’s chair, reducing stress and providing some pain relief.
Nitrous oxide is colorless, odorless gas that is a safe, effective sedative inhaled through a small mask fitting over the nose. Dr. Darr will tell you to breathe deeply, and you’ll begin to feel its effects. People have reported tingling extremities, lightheadedness, or limbs that feel heavy, but ultimately, they become calmer and more comfortable. After the procedure is finished and the mask is removed, Dr. Darr will have you breathe oxygen for a few minutes to clear your head and prevent headache.
Oral sedation is usually prescribed for anxiety relief for a few hours prior to a dental appointment. The drugs used for oral sedation are usually benzodiazepines or “benzos” such as Valium, Halcion, Xanax, or Ativan. Benzos work with receptors in the brain to decrease activity in the regions of the brain responsible for feelings of fear.
There are different types of benzodiazepines. One type is sedative-hypnotics, which bring a calming effect that can include drowsiness. In higher dosages, this type of benzodiazepine can result in a physiological sleep state resembling hypnosis. The second type are anti-anxiety medications whose purpose is to reduce anxiety. All benzos are sedatives that reduce anxiety, but different benzos target different brain areas. Some work on the region of the brain that controls emotions such as fear, while others get started on sleep and wakefulness levels.