Despite advances in dentistry, dental anxiety remains a problem for many. Research in the January 2013 British Dental Journal found that roughly 36 percent of the population experiences dental anxiety while 12% experience extreme dental fear.
Approximately 40 million adults in the United States over the age of 18 years old experience some kind of anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
The proof of using music therapy to stimulate feelings of calmness lies in how I sat down to write this article. It was finals week, and I needed to focus so I put on John Mayer radio on Pandora and got to writing. Whether I am getting ready for a long day of seeing patients, a fun night out on the town or a coffee-filled morning of studying, I tune in to different music stations. Music can impact our mood.
Fear of injection is a significant factor for those who avoid dental treatment. Emotion is a major component in how we perceive pain. Particularly of interest to dental professionals are the emotions associated with local anesthesia injections. In anatomy, we learn the limbic system, prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate gyrus control emotion. A 1991 study in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology and Behavior Neurology, found cancer patients with these areas of the brain removed perceived pain differently.
A fearful patient can pose a considerable treatment challenge, especially for dental students who may unintentionally miss signals that their patient is uncomfortable.
Dr. Peter Milgrom, professor of oral health sciences at the University of Washington and founder and former director of its Dental Fears Research Clinic, believes that students lacking clinical experience “tend to completely focus on technical procedures” or “feel under pressure to perform at a certain rate” because of clinic time constrictions or limited rest breaks.
Every time I told someone that I wanted to be a dentist, the most common response I received was, “No offense, but I hate dentists.” But why do people fear the dentist? Dental anxiety is a very common problem that may cause patients to avoid making regular visits to the dentist. Patients with dental anxiety have been shown to have a higher risk of periodontal disease and subsequently, tooth loss from delayed treatment. Common symptoms of dental anxiety include loss of sleep before the appointment, nervousness, crying, nausea, trouble breathing or panic attacks. With this in mind, how can dentists help reduce that anxiety and stress for the sake of their patients’ well-being?