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. In a cross-sectional study of 308 dental patients, moderate to high dental anxiety was reported to be present in 19% of participants. Additionally, the American Dental Association (ADA) reports that a “fear of the dentist” is one of the top reasons that people avoid going to the dentist. Since dental anxiety is a prevalent issue when providing dental care, as a future dental provider, I often think about ways to help my patients overcome this.
A product that has been popular in the last couple years has left me thinking about whether or not this tool could be used to tackle and appease dental anxiety — this item is a weighted blanket.
Why are these so prevalent and, seemingly, loved by many? Weighted blankets provide a sense of deep pressure therapy or stimulation that, when it works, “triggers a chain reaction in the body that releases an overall sense of calm and peace.” Research shows that they can have “a calm-inducing amount of pressure on your entire body, similar to the feeling of being hugged, swaddled, stroked, or held,” therefore creating a sense of peace and reducing anxiety in people. Considering that weighted blankets are a “hot commodity” right now and readily available, this could be a tool dental providers can use to help aid patients struggling with dental anxiety to feel more comfortable during a visit to the dentist’s office.
I realized firsthand the potential benefits of a weighted blanket in the dental office when a patient with high dental anxiety asked me to leave the lead X-ray vest on after we completed their radiographs. The patient then elaborated that they found the weight of the lead blanket to be comforting. After that encounter, I had a few other similar encounters with patients who asked to keep the lead vest on throughout the appointment, as the weight of it was comforting to them. Consequently, I began thinking more about whether there were any weighted blankets currently being used in the dental office or were specifically approved for dentistry and, after some research, discovered that there is a brand that the ADA promotes.
The use of a weighted blanket could have the potential to transform a patient with dental anxiety’s experience in the dental office from a negative to a positive one. If a patient has less dental anxiety, they will also feel more encouraged and empowered to take control of their oral health and dental treatment by attending appointments and following through with treatment plans. The comfort of knowing that when they are at the dentist, there will be a tool available to aid them in coping with their dental anxiety, will certainly impact numerous patients’ decisions to maintain continuity of care.
I am hoping that more dental offices adapt weighted blankets as a resource and encourage patients with dental anxiety to try it during an appointment. Moreover, due to the popularity of weighted blankets right now, more patients may be inclined to give it a chance, so now is a great time to capitalize on trying this tool with patients. Weighted blankets have an opportunity to potentially revolutionize dental anxiety, and it is a positive change I am looking forward to seeing come into fruition.
~Joan Daniel, New England ’22, Chapter Second Delegate, District 1 Assistant Editor