Dental anxiety is a real thing – and it’s far more common than most people believe. This ailment causes feelings of dread and overall loss of control when a patient is about to go through a dental-related scenario, no matter how harmless the procedure might be. A staggering 36% of Americans suffer from dental anxiety; 12% of them suffer from extreme dental fear.
Unfortunately, several surveys show that one in five Americans decide against going to the dentist – and only half of the American population visits their dentist for a yearly checkup. While dental anxiety is one of the leading causes behind these worrying numbers, efficient treatment options are few and far between. Luckily, a new treatment might be right around the corner.
How common is dental anxiety?
Dental Anxiety in Numbers
The American Dental Association has surveyed the American population only to find out troubling numbers concerning dental health. 21% of adults reported not having visited a dentist in more than three years, 15% reported doing so once a year, and 11% reported having visited a dentist in the last one to three years.
A little over half the American population reported having visited their dentist once in the last six months alone. Furthermore, close to one in five Americans reported not visiting their dentist out of fear.
These numbers, combined with the fact that more than one-third of the American population suffers from dental anxiety and more than one in ten Americans suffer from extreme dental fear, show us a harsh reality for dentistry in the United States.
As a side note, it’s important to observe dental anxiety is more prevalent in women than men for reasons unknown.
Why is dental anxiety so prevalent in American society?
While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason behind this issue, experts agree most cases of dental anxiety have their root cause in childhood trauma. Fortunately, more than two-thirds of American children go to a dentist regularly. Even though it’s a less-than-ideal number, this ailment proves more problematic in adults. This behavioral change could indicate having a traumatic experience as a trigger for dental anxiety. A vicarious traumatic experience, such as learning about dentistry through media, is also a possible reason.
Other underlying issues that can cause dental anxiety are agoraphobia and claustrophobia. Both these mental health issues can trigger panic attacks in small spaces and encumbering scenarios.
What methods help someone cope with dental anxiety?
While there’s no one cure for dental anxiety, people suffering from this ailment should try one or several methods to cope with their problems. One method might not be the right one for a person. At the same time, that same idea could work wonders for another. Sometimes, using more than one idea is the key to alleviate dental anxiety’s symptoms.
This option might seem like an obvious choice – but it’s a pretty effective one. There are several ways a patient can distract himself, such as listening to music and watching videos. Other people can work as a source of distraction as well, as long as they don’t take the focus away from the dental process entirely.
Meditation and other mindfulness methods can work for people who suffer from dental anxiety. There are several ways to go at it, and results vary on a case-by-case basis. Simple mindfulness exercises, such as observing one’s thoughts come and go, could prove successful when dealing with this ailment.
Similar to meditation and mindfulness, breathing techniques can help a patient cope with their dental anxiety. Inhaling for two seconds, then exhaling for four seconds is a perfect example of a breathing technique. Even breathing techniques (such as inhaling and exhaling for five seconds) also help cope with anxiety.
Going with Someone
Sometimes, simply attending a dentist appointment with someone can be more than enough to reduce dental anxiety levels. When it comes to elderly patients, attending any health-related appointment with someone who can ask questions can help alleviate stress and anxiety.
Taking Necessary Breaks
Some dental anxiety cases start with a traumatic experience. For example, a patient trying to tough it out when it comes to pain – and this is in no way necessary. Taking breaks can help improve the dental experience for a patient, and asking for a break is never a bad thing nor looked down.
Asking Plenty of Questions
A fair number of dental anxiety cases do not come from a personal traumatic experience but a vicarious one. Asking plenty of questions about the dental procedure that’s about to happen might help ease dental anxiety levels. Understanding what’s going to happen beforehand or throughout the procedure will help cope with dental anxiety.
Looking For a Professional Who Specializes in Dental Anxiety
While most dentists know about and understand dental anxiety cases, that doesn’t mean all of them are prepared to deal with patients who suffer from dental anxiety. Several dental practices know how to handle this type of patient – and that could mean a world of difference for the right person.
Making an Appointment Right Away
Dental anxiety isn’t reserved for the dental office alone. Sometimes, patients suffer from dental anxiety when they have to book a follow-up appointment. The best way to avoid this scenario is to book an appointment right away.
What are common symptoms of dental anxiety?
Even though dental anxiety symptoms change on a case-by-case basis, there are easily identifiable signs that can help recognize this ailment for what it is. Suffering from one of these issues might indicate a dental anxiety problem.
Dental anxiety symptoms include:
- Elevated heart rate: Usually stemming from the stress caused by dental anxiety, patients might suffer from an elevated heart rate up to the point of tachycardia. While a faster heartbeat is normal during stressful situations, severe dental anxiety cases can prove problematic.
- Breathlessness: Similarly to suffering an elevated heart rate, dental anxiety can trigger other physical issues or sensations, such as lack of breath or feeling pressure in the chest area. Breathlessness is fairly common among people who suffer from dental anxiety.
- Sweating: Another physical response to dental anxiety is sweating – and, sometimes, up to the point of sweating profusely. Unfortunately, these physical responses do anything but help the patient and sometimes trigger an anxiety-reinforcing loop of sorts.
- Shaking: An additional response to dental anxiety comes in the form of shaking. This ailment could manifest itself via shaking of one limb, several limbs, or the entire body. In a worst-case scenario, uncontrollable shaking might occur.
- Nausea: Stomach issues, such as nausea, can happen to people suffering from dental anxiety. While nausea is common, vomiting is rather uncommon in this case.
- Distress: A general sense of distress, up to the point of triggering a fight-or-flight response, is common in people who suffer from dental anxiety. This sensation might become more intense the closer the patient is to the dental office.
- Panic: A feeling of panic is fairly common in dental anxiety cases. In severe cases, a full-blown panic attack is possible.
- Fainting: Similar to panic attacks, fainting is a possibility in severe cases of dental anxiety.
- Aggression: A show of aggression is possible in certain dental anxiety cases. Both anger and aggression are often expressed verbally, not physically.
- Apprehension: An impending sense of doom or dread is common among people who suffer from dental anxiety. This feeling might get stronger as the patient gets closer to the dental office or the time of the dental appointment gets near.
What medicines are used by dentists to control dental anxiety?
For severe cases of dental anxiety, there are certain options a dentist might consider to alleviate a patient’s pain and distress. These options include anxiety-relieving medication, conscious sedation, general anesthesia, and relative analgesia.
Anxiety Relieving Medication
One of the less invasive options comes in the form of anxiety-relieving medication, such as anxiolytic tablets. Often taken an hour before the dental appointment, these tablets will help the patient deal with extreme anxiety. Unfortunately, anxiolytic tablets are sometimes not enough for patients struggling with severe dental anxiety.
Conscious sedation is employed via an IV drip in the arm of the patient. This method can be used in a dental office or a hospital, depending on the situation. Patients under conscious sedation might drift off and fall lightly asleep but can still answer verbal cues.
Pre-existing medical conditions might hinder a dentist from using conscious sedation with a patient.
One of the most drastic measures for dental anxiety is general anesthesia. This kind of treatment can only take place in a hospital setting with a dentist alongside an anesthetist. In this scenario, the patient will be completely asleep during the procedure. Before and after the procedure takes place, the patient will have to go to the dentist for a general checkup. The anesthetist will also have to evaluate the patient’s health. While this might seem like a great option for dental anxiety, it’s often a time-consuming and inefficient way of doing things. Patients take a long time to come out and lingering effects are plenty.
Also known as happy gas, nitrous oxide can help a patient relax and go through a dental procedure without any stress or distress at all. The patient uses a mask to breathe a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide to get the desired effect. The problem with relative analgesia is memory loss: most of the time, patients will not remember what happened under the effects of nitrous oxide.
A new approach to deal with dental anxiety is right around the corner
While there are several options available to treat and work with dental anxiety, most of them have difficulties or side effects that make them less-than-ideal. General anesthesia, for example, has a long lingering effect. It can also prove problematic for certain patients. Other less invasive drugs, such as anxiolytic tables, might not be strong enough for severe cases of dental anxiety.
The great news is that there’s a new medicine called PH-94B that promises great things when it comes to treating anxiety – and dental anxiety as well. It’s a revolutionary nasal spray created by Vistagen Therapeutics that is approaching phase III approval by the FDA.
What is PH-94B?
PH-94B is a nasal spray that carries great promise when it comes to treating dental anxiety. It’s not invasive, it has no lingering effects, and it sets quickly. This drug was created by Vistagen Therapeutics, and it’s approaching the final stages when it comes to FDA approval. After that, it’ll be available for the public.
That means there might be a way to fight against dental anxiety soon enough – a revolutionary way that acts quickly and has little to no side effects.
How does PH-94B work?
PH-94B is simple enough that everyone can use it. It’s a nasal spray that only takes fifteen minutes to work. There’s no need to swallow a pill, go under general anesthesia, or anything similar. After the patient uses the nasal spray, the anxiety symptoms will begin to wear off as the drug sets in.
Does PH-94B have any lasting effects?
The great thing about PH-94B is its timeframe and effects. Patients who have used PH-94B experience its effects during the first 15 minutes after using the nasal spray. After that, there’s a two-hour window when the intended effects will last.
Soon after those two hours, the patient will slowly come out with no lingering effects whatsoever. This last part alone could revolutionize how dentists treat patients with anxiety everywhere. Invasive stuff such as conscious sedation could be a thing of the past.
When will PH-94B be released to the public?
Right now, PH-94B is approaching phase III of FDA approval in the United States. That means this revolutionary medicine that’ll help countless people fight against dental anxiety is more than halfway through reaching the mass public. Even though there’s no exact date, countless people will be able to fight against anxiety and potentially attend their dental appointments with no trouble soon enough.