According to the American Dental Association, 22 percent of people skip dental appointments out of fear. As a result, dental practices and their teams must consistently strive to ensure a positive and comfortable patient experience.
To help alleviate stress in an anxious patient, dentists should focus on two key areas: communication and reassurance. How dentists communicate and build connections with their patients can be extremely powerful. An anxious patient may highly benefit from open communication during treatment. Taking the time to educate and answer questions regarding treatment will help earn trust and provide a sense of calm. Patients should also be aware that dental anxiety can drastically affect their oral health, so offering reassurance that treatment is in their best interest will help make them feel more at ease.
Sedation dentistry helps calm the nervous system to prevent or control panic and significantly improves the overall patient experience. But identifying the level of anxiety experienced during a patient’s visit is imperative since the cause will be different for everyone. Patients who suffer from dental anxiety may experience shortness of breath, a rapid heart rate, and butterflies in the stomach. Feelings of fear may stem from past negative experiences, a fear of needles or pain, uncertainty about a new procedure, or embarrassment over the state of their oral health.
Sedation dentistry is closely regulated and has been used safely and effectively for many years. There are three sedative states at which a dentist can administer treatment: minimal, moderate, and deep.
Minimal (Nitrous Oxide)
Nitrous Oxide, more commonly referred to as laughing gas, is a mild sedative agent that effectively and safely manages pain and anxiety during dental treatment. Mixed with oxygen and inhaled through a small mask over the nose, the patient will remain relaxed and awake throughout their treatment.
Moderate (Oral Sedation)
An oral sedative is a type of Benzodiazepine (i.e. Xanax, Valium) which decreases activity in the parts of the brain that control fear and anxiety. Also known as sleep dentistry, oral sedation creates a drowsy yet conscious state for the patient and is ideal for those with high levels of dental anxiety.
Deep (IV Sedation)
Intravenous sedation refers to administering an anti-anxiety drug through the blood during dental treatment. This method does not put the patient completely to sleep but is far less aware of their surroundings and the procedure. The sedation works as a conscious sedation to help patients feel more relaxed during appointments.
As a dental professional, it’s imperative to actively participate in open conversations with patients who struggle with dental anxiety. The primary focus of any successful practice should be ensuring that each patient is comfortable, relaxed, happy, and satisfied with their dental experience.