How to Deal With Dental Anxiety When Buying New Dentures
Getting fitted for dentures can be a relatively simple process. You take a mold, wait for the dentures to be made, and then have them fitted. But as with many medical procedures, it’s rarely that simple. Unless you have already lost all of your teeth, you will need to have a few exactions, and you also need to think about x-rays and other tests.
Modern dentistry is advanced enough to make even the most complicated procedures painless and comfortable, but if you have a dental phobia, that won’t do much to reassure you.
So, what do you do when you need to have dentures fitted but are completely crippled by your dental anxiety?
Is it Normal to be Scared of the Dentist?
Dental phobia is very common and is said to affect more than a third of the population, making it one of the most common fears in the United States.
As with all fears, it has many degrees and many causes. For most people, the fear is very mild and stems from a lack of control and the invasive and intrusive nature of dentistry. After all, you have to lie back, open your mouth, and wait for someone to poke around using very scary implements. It’s a fear that isn’t necessarily related to a previous experience or childhood trauma and one that can be managed with relative ease.
On the other side of the scale, you have the extreme fear that is crippling and difficult to overcome. It may stem from a really bad experience as a child, but that’s not always the case.
Some experts have speculated that extreme dental fear comes more from the waiting room than the dentist chair. Children are often oblivious to the world and have an element of invulnerability. They are willing to trust a happy, calmly-spoken, and smiling dentist, especially if there is no pain involved and they get a lollipop at the end.
But that event may have been preceded by sitting next to an anxious parent in the waiting room. Children feed off the anxious energy given off by their parents, and if the parent has odontophobia, or they are worried about what the dentist will find or what it will cost, it can make for an unpleasant experience.
If the soundtrack to that nervous energy is the squeal of the dentist’s drill as they work on another patient, followed by moans and groans from said patient, it creates a terrifying experience for the child and one that may never leave them.
If you have children yourself, it’s important to try and stay calm when you take them to the dentist. Make it as pleasant and inconsequential as you can. Otherwise, there could be a lot of screaming, tantrums, and difficult dental visits in both your future and theirs.
Odontophobia vs Dentophobia
The official name of “dental phobia” is listed as both odontophobia and dentophobia. Both of these words essentially mean the same thing and, in both cases, the word “phobia” comes from the Greek for “fear”. Etymologically speaking, the only difference is that odontophobia incorporates the Greek word for “tooth” or “teeth” while Dentophobia uses the Latin word.
We’ve seen it mentioned that one refers to a fear of dentists and dental surgery while the other is a fear of problems related to teeth, and even to teeth in general. In actual fact, they are both treated as the same in scientific literature and the two words are used interchangeably.
How to Deal with Dental Anxiety Before Getting Fitted for Dentures
Fortunately, getting over your dental fear is not as cruelly straightforward as “Just grin and bear it”. That might have been the case when you were very young and people were a little less understanding and accommodating, but these days there are many things that can help to make a trip to the dentist more tolerable.
Tell the Dentist About Your Fear
When you’re scared of something, it can feel like you’re the only person in the world who has that issue, or that you have had it worse than anyone else.
But dental phobia is very common and your dentist will have seen it many hundreds of times before. Let’s use the statistic quoted at the outset of this article as an example. It suggests that more than a third of all Americans have some kind of dental phobia. We also know that the average dentist sees more than 10 patients a day and works 5 days a week for 50 weeks a year.
That means, on average, they will see an average of 750 patients a year who have some kind of dental phobia and over 300 with an extreme phobia. Of course, we have to assume that fewer denotphobic patients are actually booking appointments, but even then, it’s still fair to assume that US doctors are seeing a minimum of 200 dentophobic patients a year.
In that regard, you’re not special and contrary to what you might think in the deepest and darkest parts of your mind, they won’t be disgusted by you, nor will they pity you. What they will do, however, is accommodate you and make sure you are comfortable.
If you contact your dentist in advance, you will likely discover that they have systems in place to make life easier for patients with dental phobia. Let them know how extreme your phobia is and they may offer some solutions to help you out, including certain anti-anxiety medications. They may even offer to book your appointment at the end of the day, when everyone else has left and you are free to take your time and ease into the treatment.
Understand the Process
The worst part of any fear is the apprehension that comes before. That’s not to say that the event itself is not as scary, but it’s certainly not as prolonged, and the longer you spend preparing for it and worrying about it, the worse it will become.
Understanding the process should make it easier and will ensure you’re not fretting about the things that won’t actually happen.
Are you worried that a tooth extraction will be long and painful? Unless you have healthy teeth with deep roots, it’s unlikely, and if you do, your dentist probably won’t want to remove them. Many of the extractions that occur in preparation for dentures are easy, as the teeth and gums are usually damaged enough to allow for a straightforward extraction.
As for the anesthetic, it’s just as quick and painless—a small prick, some eyewatering, and before you know it, everything will be numb and you won’t feel anything that follows.
Read about the process of acquiring dentures, understand what is expected of you, how long it will take, and other basic information. Knowing how unlikely it is to experience serious adverse reactions and extreme pain/discomfort may help to calm you down.
There are plenty of articles and guides to help you out. You can look at some pictures, read forum posts from people who have been through the same thing, and even watch some videos of treatments in action. It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s a form of exposure therapy.
Think of it in the context of a fear of spiders. If you have never seen a tarantula, or anything larger than a penny, part of your fear is a fear of the unknown. You run at the first sight of a spider and even if you see them on the TV, you quickly change the channel.
But if you spend some time reading about them, watching them on TV, and learning that they are not as freaky or as deadly as you thought, you might feel a little less scared. The fear will still remain, but it will not be as crippling.
If you have a very serious dental phobia, you should contact your doctor or dentist beforehand and ask about anti-anxiety medications. These drugs are very effective, but they don’t come without their issues.
Also known as anxiolytics, anti-anxiety medications are very habit-forming and cause an array of side effects, including dizziness and nausea. If they are prescribed, the prescription needs to be short and the dose small, otherwise, they could cause more problems than they fix.
Some of the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety drugs include Valium and Xanax. They take effect in under 30 minutes, last for a few hours, and produce pronounced feelings of relaxation, euphoria, and sedation. They are not sleeping tablets, and with the right dose, they won’t knock you out and will just take the edge off. However, the sedative effects will become more pronounced with time and heavier doses. It also depends on the individual, as they hit some people harder than others.
As a result, you will need to have someone with you. They should accompany you and drive you back safely, as you shouldn’t be operating a vehicle under the influence of strong sedatives.
Some dentists in the United States offer something known as “conscious sedation”. An IV drip will be inserted into your arm and you will be slowly fed a sedative to keep you in a semi-sleep state. You will still be awake and can respond to verbal commands, but you’ll be sedated enough not to feel anxious and not to concern yourself with what the dentist is doing.
Although it sounds like the perfect solution, it’s not without its problems.
The treatment can be expensive, you will need someone to accompany you, and you may suffer from adverse reactions during and after the treatment. You may feel nauseous after the treatment and if you have a full day of work or chores ahead of you, it’s simply not a viable option.
Speak with your dentist to see if conscious sedation is an option. They will look into your medical history and ask you about allergies, medications, and pre-existing illnesses just to make sure that there are no interactions or contraindications.
Nitrous Oxide Gas
NO gas, known colloquially as “happy gas” or “laughing gas”, is both a recreational drug and one that’s used by dentists. They will give you a combination of NO and air to produce fast-acting effects that include euphoria, relaxation, and sedation.
The great thing about NO is that it has very few side effects, and when it is administered under the watchful eye of an expert, it’s perfectly safe. It also acts quickly and wears off just as quickly, so you don’t have to say goodbye to your entire day just because you had a few extractions.
Practice Deep Breathing and Meditation
The problem with drug treatments like NO, sedatives, and anti-anxiety drugs is that they can be just as anxiety-inducing for some people. If you’re a worrier by nature, you may be concerned about how you will react to these medications.
Will you suffer any serious side effects? Will you make a fool of yourself? For someone who doesn’t have a great deal of experience with drugs and is anxious by nature, these are very common and very real concerns. As a result, drugs aren’t always a viable option.
If you want an option that doesn’t have any side effects, try practicing some deep breathing exercises and meditation.
Simply breathing deeply will help to counteract the physical effects of anxiety, slowing your heart rate down and keeping that panic under control. It’s a great way of suppressing the anxiety when you are in the waiting room and while it probably won’t kill your panic completely, it will ensure that you’re not an anxious mess by the time you sit in the dentist’s chair.
Once you leave the waiting room and head for the chair, just keep breathing deeply, take your time, and settle down. The great thing about visiting the dentist is that you get to lie back while they do all of the work. You can close your eyes, breathe deeply through your nose, and practice some meditation.
If you don’t think that it will work for you, it’s probably because you haven’t tried it. These techniques work for everyone, they’re just not as powerful as sedatives. The goal is to take the edge off and make the appointment more manageable, not to send you into a trance.
Listen to Music or Audio Books
Visiting the dentist is a very sensory experience, from the smell of the mouthwash and disinfectant to the noise of the drill and the sensation of the cold metal in your mouth. If you’re anxious, all of these senses can be overpowering, making you feel overwhelmed and triggering your fight or flight response.
You are literally being bombarded from every angle and feel like you have nowhere to run, and so the panic intensifies.
The easiest fix is to listen to music—the louder the better. Choose something that you really like, something that makes you happy, and something that you can get lost in.
If that means heavy metal music played at full volume, then so be it. If you prefer listening to audiobooks that whisk you away to a fantasy world, then that will work as well. The noise serves as a distraction and it also drowns out the noise of the drill. More importantly, it’s a home comfort that cheers you up when you are very anxious.
General anesthesia should always be a last resort option and, ideally, it should only be used for invasive and extensive procedures. The risks are much higher with this option. There is a chance (albeit slight) that something can go wrong and the side effects will also stay with you for the rest of the day, making you lethargic. You won’t be able to drive yourself home and will need to follow some strict pre- and post-surgery rules.
Most patients are more worried about going under than they are about visiting the dentist, but if that’s not a fear that you have, and your fear of the dentist is so severe that it’s causing serious pain and complications, it’s an option that you can discuss with your practitioner.
Summary: Beating Dental Anxiety
There is no magic wand. Ultimately, you will have to face your fears if you want to get the treatment that you need. But it will be worth it in the long run. A little discomfort and anxiety now will lead to a bright smile for the rest of your life.
The elation that you feel when you make it out the other side and have a new set of dentures to show for it will be worth all of the worrying!
Once your decayed teeth have been removed, your gums have healed, and your dentures have been fitted, future dental appointments should be a breeze. Providing you keep your mouth clean and your gums healthy, you shouldn’t need any more invasive procedures and will just need the occasional denture repair, as well as a new set of dentures every 5 years or so.