Why Do Patients Avoid Treatment? An Introduction to Dental Phobia

Dental phobia is a serious condition that affects a large portion of the population. In fact, for many people, their dental anxiety is so intense that they let their oral health suffer as a result. Infection, gum disease, and tooth decay are unfortunately common in those who avoid seeing the dentist, and since it is left untreated, this puts patients with dental fears at higher risk for disease. 



The Consequences of Unaddressed Dental Anxiety


The mouth hosts billions of bacteria, making it the focal point for developing disease, and leading to increased risk factors for many systemic illnesses. Sadly, regardless of the importance of dental care, many people will avoid the dentist at all costs. This can lead to cavities and advanced tooth decay, infection, periodontal (gum) disease, and other dental problems. Opting out of regular dental visits will negatively affect a patient’s overall health. 



Another solution? Sedation dentistry. 


There are three types of sedation dentistry that can be utilized: 


ORAL SEDATION: non-intravenous sedation.


INHALED SEDATION: nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”).


IV SEDATION: intravenous sedation.


WATCH: “What is oral sedation dentistry?


READ: Sedation Dentistry 101 


Sedation dentistry is the act of administering oral medications, nitrous oxide or intravenous sedatives to help the patient to feel relaxed, and avoid any sensations of discomfort during more intensive dental procedures. The ultimate goal of sedation dentistry is to treat the patient while still providing them with a positive and comfortable dental experience. For some types of sedation dentistry, the patient remains awake; in others, the patient sleeps during the procedure and wakes when it is over. Sedation dentistry is extremely effective and safe. It can be used on many patients, but there are some specific things to look out for — patients should be sure to have a conversation with their provider to ensure that they are a good candidate. Some types of sedation dentistry are not a good fit for all patients, so it is important that the patient and provider communicate beforehand. 


Educating Patients on Sedation Dentistry


Patients might ask, “what is oral sedation?” Oral sedation is a non-intravenous sedation using a conscious sedation drug known as Triazolam, sometimes known as Halcion. This is a type of sedation dentistry taken in a pill form. It is usually an anti-anxiety medication or mild sleeping pill. Most commonly, the patient is instructed to take it an hour before their appointment. Some patients may start to feel drowsy on their way to receiving treatment. Once the patient arrives at the office, a second dose is sometimes taken. While technically awake, the patients are “out of it” and will most likely not remember the appointment. They can respond if asked to do something, like turning their head or opening their mouth, but they are so relaxed that some might even take short naps throughout the procedure. 


Sedation dentistry can be used for any procedure. 


The patient may be a good candidate for sedation dentistry after reviewing their medical history and current medications, provided that the patient has one of the following: 


1) Dental phobia or anxiety when visiting the dentist. 


2) Dental work that will be long or invasive.


3) Teeth that are extremely sensitive. 


4) Strong gag reflex. 


5) A phobia of needles. 


Another question patients might have would be concerning the most well known type of sedation dentistry — nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas”. Patients might wonder if it will help with the pain of the procedure. The answer is yes — nitrous oxide used in a dental setting is a very safe and effective way of managing pain. Not only does it help with pain, but it can also help those with dental fears by managing their anxiety. Nitrous oxide is administered by having the patients inhale it before their procedure.


READ: “Different Types of Sedation Dentistry”