Dental anxiety is extremely common, affecting upwards of 36 percent of the population, according to a survey published in the British Dental Journal. You may suffer from dental anxiety if your fear or anxiety prevents you from going to the dentist or if you experience stress when in a dental setting.
Dental anxiety occurs in both children and adults of all ages and may be associated with some mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder, or a previous history of neck and head trauma. Other conditions, such as bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia, can increase a person’s risk of developing dental anxiety.
If you suspect that you or your child is dealing with dental anxiety, know that there are things you can do to better manage your condition.
Signs and Symptoms of Dental Anxiety
Dental anxiety is often an irrational fear of going to the dentist. Equipment like drills and needles can trigger anxiety, as well as the general dental setting itself. When a person has dental anxiety, they will often experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Low blood pressure (possible fainting)
- Racing heartbeat or palpitations
- Withdrawal or the use of humor to hide anxiety
- Visible distress, signs of panic, or crying
- Anger or aggression
- Nervousness that worsens over time
- Racing thoughts
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Trouble sleeping before the appointment
Consequences of Dental Anxiety on Oral Health
Despite having good oral hygiene habits at home, there is no substitute for regular visits to your dentist for optimal dental health and wellness. A dental hygienist can provide you with a deep clean by removing stuck-on plaque and tartar. Your dentist can also detect early signs of oral health issues, such as tooth decay and gum disease.
When you have dental anxiety, you may not visit your dentist as often as you should or maybe not at all. Without regular dental visits, you are at a higher risk of experiencing the following:
- Tooth Loss – Seeing your dentist every six to 12 months is the best way to prevent tooth decay. When you fail to see your dentist regularly, decay can start to spread as cavities are left untreated. If a cavity reaches the pulp at the center of the tooth, the infection can move into the tooth root and require a root canal.
- Infection – Infection is a serious consequence of not visiting your dentist regularly. When an infection develops in the mouth, it does not take long for it to spread and eventually reach the bloodstream where it can move throughout the body causing serious illness.
- Gum Disease – During a routine cleaning, your hygienist will clean the space between the teeth and gumline to prevent plaque buildup. When bacteria are allowed to grow and spread, it can lead to gum disease that can progress to problems like gum recession and tooth loss.
Managing Dental Anxiety in Kids & Adults
Dealing with dental anxiety can be difficult but there are strategies that you can use to overcome these fears. Start by talking to your dentist or your child’s dentist about the anxiety. Open and honest communication can help put any worries to rest and make the patient feel like he or she is more in control.
Consider bringing a friend or family member with you to your appointment. Having someone that you know and trust in the exam room can help you stay calm and relaxed, especially if your friend is willing to talk to you and keep you distracted during the procedure.
If you don’t have a human distraction available, find a distraction elsewhere. Watch a TV show or movie if your dental practice has one available in the exam room, or listen to music with earbuds to drown out the sounds around you.
Schedule an Appointment with Bonham Dental Arts
Sedation dentistry can also be useful for patients who struggle with severe dental anxiety. At Bonham Dental Arts, we offer several forms of sedation, including nitrous oxide (laughing gas), oral sedation, and IV sedation. Contact our office today to learn how we can help you manage your dental anxiety or to schedule an appointment.