Sleep Your Dental Fears Away

magicteethBy Farid Noie DDS, DICOI, FAGD, AFAAID

Imagine this: you are going about your daily business and all of a sudden a single thought crosses your mind. Almost instantly your heart starts racing. You find yourself feeling anxious and uneasy.  You might even notice that your blood pressure has gone up. Many people report sweaty palms or a knot in their stomach. What could it be?

Well, there are only a handful of thoughts that can affect us to that degree.  You are either in love, getting ready to be audited by the IRS, or you just remembered you have a dental appointment.  Of course I am making light of the dental fear, but for many people these responses are very real. Your logical side knows that you need to keep your appointment, and you will. But your emotional side does not want to be anywhere near your dentist’s office.

When it’s time to go to your dentist, do any of these physical and emotional reactions sound familiar?  Regrettably for too many people they do. There are those who express their fear of dentists openly but most of us take the brave route and keep it together by hiding our fear. Then there is the third group, people who completely give in to fear and just avoid going to the dentist altogether until something hurts to a point that it can no longer be tolerated. They then reluctantly go see their dentist and usually do just enough to relieve the pain. They might even decide to get as much as they can done on the same visit because they know once they leave, they will not come back until the next toothache becomes unbearable. What percentage of population do you think belong to each of these three groups?

More than thirty percent of people belong to the third group according to Dental Organization for Conscious Sedation (DOCS).  Even for those in group two who bravely visit their dentist regardless of their apprehension (like me), the experience is not very pleasant or relaxing. After all, it is completely natural to get uneasy when a sharp, long needle is approaching your mouth.  Over the last 18 years I have rarely seen a patient who enjoys getting dental work done. Actually, on rare occasions (maybe once in a couple of years), I have come across some who enjoy getting anesthetic injections or teeth pulled. I always find that alarming and usually proceed to ask a few more questions to assure they are mentally sound.

There are some special occasions in life that you want to remember. Getting dental work done is not one of them. The damage caused by dread of dental work goes beyond just sweaty palms and heavy palpitations. It causes many people to avoid routine dental checkups and early detection of the oral problems when they are still small and easily correctable (and inexpensive). Some common oral health problems like Gingivitis are painless, so they get very little attention simply because they don’t hurt. Other problems such as development of tooth decay remain pain-free until the nerve of the tooth gets infected. By then the problem becomes more complicated, more painful to treat, and far more expensive. All of which further reinforces the original fear theory. I call that “oral catch 22.”

Wouldn’t you rather be sound asleep while getting your dental work?  That would be ideal, wouldn’t it? Well, the delivery of sedative drugs during the dental procedure will eliminate feelings of discomfort and ensures a pleasant experience for the patient. Even though there are other forms of sedations available, they are usually not as effective or easily to titrate as intravenous (IV) sedation. The process is extremely simple. It is very similar to getting blood work done or donating blood. The specially trained dentist will establish an IV line and then give you some sedative drugs intravenously until you fall asleep. Next thing you remember, you wake up and your dental work is completed. It all seems like minutes as opposed to hours. Most people don’t even remember the whole experience. It is as though your mouth got magically fixed while you were sound sleep.

I understand there are some of you who still prefer to feel and remember the whole experience. Those are usually the ones who have never experienced IV Sedation in a dental office. I dare say that if you try it, you would not go back to awake dentistry.

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