Dr James Stone talks to us about dental anxiety and the options available to assist a nervous patient to manage their fears. 

What are patient’s biggest fears of the dentist?

I think most people will say they are scared of the dentist because of ‘pain’ but their fears actually run deeper than that. Most people are scared of the unknown and lack of control of situation in which they are potentially very vulnerable.

Where do these fears originate?

Usually childhood. As children it is difficult to fully understand what is happening at the dentist, so almost ANY experience is perceived as unpleasant and traumatic. The ‘school dental nurse’ I have heard so much about since moving to NZ certainly won’t have helped…!

Should dental care be painful?

Absolutely not. Proper anaesthesia is the most important part of any dental treatment. If a patient isn’t completely numb then we don’t proceed. Simple as that.

Has pain control improved in dentistry?

Yes. We now have a wide range of local anaesthetic drugs that we can use. It is important to work out which one is best for each individual patient. There are also proven links between anxiety levels and a patient’s perception of pain so making the patient feel as relaxed as possible is imperative.

What are the options available for nervous patients receiving dental treatment?

– A good patient – dentist relationship: The more anxious the patient, the more important it is to be kind, calm and make them feel at ease.

– Time:  I usually book anxious patients in for longer. The treatment takes just as long but this gives them time to ask questions, get comfortable, or even ‘ freak out’ if they want to! 

Oral sedation: The patient takes a sedative tablet approximately 30 minutes before their appointment. Thus relieves their feelings of anxiety and is great for short appointments if a patient just needs a filling or a clean.

Intra-venous (IV) sedation: The sedative is injected through a line, which is placed in the patient’s hand or arm. It works very quickly and quite a deep level of sedation can be achieved, although the patient will still be awake. This is great for longer procedures of for complex treatments like wisdom tooth removal.

What is your biggest fear Dr Stone?

Failure…. and spiders.