Many people feel nervous about visiting the dentist, but that doesn't have to mean missing out on important dental care.
If you're worried about the possible pain or discomfort involved in treatments, you don't like needles or drills, or you've had a bad dental experience in the past, talking to your dentist will help them to understand your situation. They may then be able to recommend options that could make things easier for you.
How common is dental anxiety?
Dental anxiety is more common than you might think, with one study finding that it affects around 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 10 children in Australia. Dental phobia, which is serious dental anxiety that impacts significantly on a person’s life, affects about 5% of Australians. This can cause them to delay or even avoid dental visits altogether.
The fear of going to the dentist is often complex and may relate to specific aspects of dentistry, such as the sound of drills or the thought of blood. It can also be a symptom of other phobias such as a fear of needles, close contact, or a fear of germs.
When can it be a problem?
People with mild dental anxiety are usually able to manage their nerves and keep up with their dental visits, but those with more severe anxiety sometimes avoid or cancel their appointments. This can put your oral health at risk, as your dentist won't have the chance to spot symptoms of problems while they're still in an early stage of development.
If you postpone your dental check-ups or only visit the dentist when you already have a problem, it's more likely that you'll need to have a more complex treatment. Unfortunately, this can lead to a vicious cycle that reinforces dental anxiety, as your only experiences of dental visits may be associated with the pain and discomfort of your symptoms.
How can your dentist help?
Dentists understand that many patients worry about their visits or treatments, and will do everything they can to help calm your nerves. They may discuss sedation options that could help you to relax during your treatment, such as:
Also known as “happy gas” or “laughing gas” is a very popular means of calming people’s nerves during dental treatment. Many women have had nitrous oxide before when in labour so are somewhat familiar with how it helps to calm people down, and can also reduce the sensation of pain.
Your dentist may provide medication that can help you to relax and should be taken before or during your appointment. As oral sedatives cause feelings of drowsiness and amnesia, you will need to be accompanied to the dental clinic by a responsible adult and you shouldn't drive until the effects have worn off.
Intravenous (IV) sedation needs to be administered by a registered medical practitioner. It's often used during complex treatments such as multiple root canals or oral surgery, but may be requested for other treatments if you want to feel more relaxed. Unlike general anaesthesia, you'll still be awake and able to respond to your dentist while under IV sedation, though you may not remember much about the experience.
We do not currently offer this method of sedation, but can help organise for you to see a specialist or dentist that does.
Talk to our dentists in Sydney
Is it time for your dental check-up? Talk to our friendly team at Sailors Bay Dentistry to find out more about our options for anxious patients to help you feel calm and relaxed during your visit to our clinic.
 Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health. Dental fear and anxiety: Information for Dental Practitioners [Online] 2016 [Accessed May 2018] Available from: https://www.adelaide.edu.au/arcpoh/dperu/special/dfa/Dental_Fear_Professional.pdf