One of the hardest things about being a dentist, according to Bend, Oregon, dentist Kelley Mingus, is the number of patients you see and take care of each day who are terrified of visiting you! There is even a name for it: dentophobia. It can be a standalone phobia or connected with others such as iatrophobia, the fear of doctors, or trypanophobia, the fear of needles.
"A patient can range from mildly anxious about visiting for a dental cleaning or checkup to extreme fear that is debilitating and keeps them from ever visiting," Mingus said. "These cases are especially heartbreaking because these patients often need extensive dental work as a result of avoiding the care they’ve needed for years."
Today many dentists around the nation offer something called sedation dentistry. This is especially helpful for patients with severe phobias, but also can help someone with mild anxiety have a more positive experience before, during and after their appointment.
In a study conducted by the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Dentistry, it was determined that the preference for sedation dentistry among the group researched depending on the procedure in question, the cost and the patient's level of fear or anxiety. Just over 7 percent of respondents expressed an interest in or preference for sedation dentistry for general cleanings, 18 percent for crowns or fillings, 46.5 percent for tooth extractions, 54.7 percent for endodontic-related procedures like root canals, and 68.2 percent for periodontic or gum disease procedures.
"There are essentially three levels of sedation dentistry," said Mingus. "Just like with regular medication or procedures, we only want to use the most intensive form as needed. For patients with mild anxiety, we start with just medication taken before and then during the procedure to calm them. For extreme phobias, we may use complete sedation to take care of years of needed medical work in one, several-hours-long surgery."
Not all dental professionals offer sedation dentistry at their practices, so be sure to inquire if your dentist does. For those struggling to get the care they need due to anxiety or a phobia, it may be worth considering finding a dentist who offers sedation dentistry.
"I can’t express enough how important twice-a-year dental visits are to not only your dental health, but also your overall health," Mingus said. "We do more than just clean teeth at these appointments; we identify signs of bigger problems and stop them in their tracks, we clean plaque off that can only be removed with professional tools and so much more."