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Facing the fear over dental visits
February 26, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
Dental anxiety – If you have it, you’re not alone. According to WebMD, an estimated nine to 20 percent of Americans avoid going to the dentist because of fear or anxiety.

“There’s a whole list of things people are afraid of,” said Dr. Dan Peterson with Family Gentle Dental Care in Gering. “Some people are afraid of needles or the drill and some are afraid of the noise involved in dental work. The fear can usually be traced back to childhood.”

The number one complain is tough experience with the dentist when young. It doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to dental work. Dr. Peterson recalled a patient who was in the emergency room for stitches for a laceration. That experience turned into a trigger and became a fear of the dentist.

“We always take blood pressure on all out patients,” Peterson said. “Sometimes their blood pressure is high because of what I call the ‘white coat’ experience at the doctor’s office.”

Peterson said another reason for dental anxiety, especially in women, is if they have a past of some form of abuse.

“I have a couple of patients where I literally have to work at arm’s length,” he said. “Physical closeness brings back bad memories. Because of brain chemistry, bad experiences often stick in people’s minds.”

One solution Peterson came up with is to have parents bring their children along when visiting the dentist. As the kids sit and watch, they become more familiar with dental procedures, reducing the fear of the unknown.

Dr. Hayley Beaudette with Bluffs Dental said fear of the unknown is a common cause of dental anxiety, especially in children.

“Many kids have never been to a dentist, so they don’t know what to expect,” she said. “We spend time talking with them and explaining and showing what we’re going to do. We explain what sounds different instruments are going to make and how it’s going to feel. The kids feel a lot more comfortable when they understand the procedure.”

As for solutions, dental patients are often creative. Some self-medicate with tranquilizers or alcohol. One of Peterson’s patients hypnotized himself.

“We don’t have control over that,” Peterson said, but anesthetics are available from the dentist. Plus the needles we use today are very small, so there’s less stinging when the anesthetic is administered. Some of the fears people have are based on dental technology that’s no longer in use.”

Beaudette said many times, adults are worse to deal with than children. They may have had a bad dental experience in their childhood or heard about other’s bad experiences.

“We utilize a lot of YouTube videos for patient education so they can visualize the procedure,” she said. “Seeing the procedure being done helps them put it in perspective.”

Peterson said it takes his entire staff to effectively deal with dental anxieties and fears. “The receptionist has to listen when the patient first calls in to determine their needs,” he said. “My dental assistants also have to listen for any fear that comes up.”

One patient felt more secure feeling the weight of the lead apron during x-rays, which is standard procedure. So, Peterson left the apron on for the entire visit. Some patients want to see how the procedure is going, while other don’t.

Beaudette said students in today’s dental schools learn more about patient comfort that wasn’t addressed 40 years ago.

“About a third of the patients I see have some dental anxiety,” Peterson said. “Sadly, some people who have severe dental phobias simply don’t come. If you don’t take care of your teeth, they’ll go away.”
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