For many, the prospect of visiting a dentist invokes fear and anxiety. Thankfully, pain-free dentistry is possible for everyone. This is particularly important for children, people who are very anxious and people who have special needs. Here are some ways your dentist can provide pain-free dentistry — as well as methods for managing dental anxiety.
Dental Procedures Involving Pain Management
Dentists have different anesthesia and sedation techniques they can use to help their patients feel comfortable and have a pain-free experience during their procedure. The textbook Advanced Training in Anaesthesia outlines some dental treatments during which these techniques are often used:
These treatments are all provided so that, in the long term, a person doesn't suffer from discomfort, infection or other problems in their mouth.
Techniques for Pain-Free Dentistry
To ensure you don't feel any pain during your dental work, your dentist or specialist has a number of methods that can help you relax and feel comfortable:
Local AnesthesiaAs described by the American Dental Association (ADA), your dentist may use local anesthesia to numb your mouth. This technique works by blocking the nerves that send pain and sensory signals to your brain. Your dentist might use a topical anesthetic in a cream or gel form to first numb the surface area before injecting a local anesthetic. Often, injectable anesthetics are used when filling cavities, treating gum disease or preparing teeth for crowns.
Nitrous OxideNitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is commonly used to reduce anxiety during dental treatment. This is administered to the patient through a small nasal mask, according to the British Columbia Dental Association. Patients can expect to feel relaxed, but they will remain conscious through their procedure.
Oral SedationTo help with anxiety during a dental procedure, your dentist can also offer you sedative medication in the form of a pill, notes the ADA.
Intravenous SedationAnother common method of anxiety management at the dentist's office is intravenous sedation. It involves a dentist directly injecting a sedative drug into a vein, causing a deeper form of sedation, explains the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The patient may not be aware of what is going on, and the dentist may keep the patient in the chair longer to monitor their recovery as they wake up. In these cases, patients should bring a friend or family member to escort them home as the effects may take time to fully wear off.
General AnesthesiaThis method involves the patient being asleep for the entire procedure, according to the AAP. Specially trained professionals will administer the medications and monitor the patient throughout the entire procedure.
Helping a Loved One With Dental Phobia
Being able to support a family member, whether they be a child or adult, during visits to the dentist is very important. A review in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dentistry shares the following methods to help alleviate dental anxiety:
- Find a dentist with good communication skills who can build a strong doctor-patient relationship based on trust. This may mean regularly seeing the same dentist.
- Use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Distract when possible. This can be done by the dentist, but family or friends can also use their knowledge of the patient to distract them during treatment.
- Employ the "tell, show, do" technique. This involves the dentist telling the patient what they will be doing and showing them the tools before performing the treatment. The person accompanying the patient can help them prepare beforehand by explaining what they can expect and even showing them pictures of the dental chair or drill.
- Use positive reinforcement. After seeing the dentist, if the patient behaved well, give them praise or a small reward.
- Find a dentist that specializes in working with children or individuals with anxiety. Some dentists will use calming music and dim lighting to create a more comfortable environment.
What's most important is to not let fear of going to the dentist prevent you or your loved one from having necessary dental work. All of these methods can help you, your child or your family member visit the dentist without fear and maintain a healthy smile.