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I believe most people have anxiety or fear to a certain extent when they visit a dentist. As far as that anxiety does not become overwhelming and make you avoid receiving dental treatments, you are probably experiencing what most people do. The anxiety or fear can be due to a number of different reasons for different people. Past bad experiences with your previous dentists, fear of pain inflicted on you, anxious about what is unknown to you, scary stories from friends or family members about dental experiences, negative image of dentists causing pain to their patients created in the media, and so on and so forth. All or part of these may be your reasons for your unfound fears whenever you think of going to visit your dentist. A good dentist should make the patients (at least most of them) feel at ease. If your dentist makes you feel very intimidated or very nervous, you have to find out it is his/her problem or yours. If it is his/hers, then switch to someone that you can build a good rapport with. If it is your problem, you should let your dentist know right in the beginning of the appointment, or even better before the appointment. There are a number of ways that dentists can help their patients to reduce their anxiety or nervousness about dental visits. I will discuss a few common ones.
Behavior modifications: when your dentist knows you are nervous, he/she will slow down the pace and try to explain to you what he/she is going to do before he/she actually does it. This method can prepare your mind and ease your fears for uncertainty.
The "gas": Nitrous oxide gas, also known as the laughing gas, is commonly employed by dentists to reduce anxiety for their patients. Patients are instructed to breathe with a mask over their noses, supplied with the nitrous oxide gas. This kind of sedation can be effective for many people but may not work for everyone. The advantage of it is that it is very quick to recover, almost instantaneously after the gas is stopped supplying to the patient and has very minimal risks for short-term use and the patient is conscious throughout the treatment. The experience can be very pleasant and patients even have a “high”of it.
Oral sedation: Your dentist may prescribe some sedative-hypnotic pills for you to take 1 hour prior to the scheduled appointment. These pills usually belong to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Commonly oral sedatives used by your dentists are Valium, Ativan, and Triazolam. There is sublingual form for Valium that you put under your tongue and the drug starts to work in 15 minutes. Some dentists advertised with “sleep dentistry by taking a pill that helps you sleep throughout your dental treatment.” I consider this kind of advertisements misleading and unethical. In fact, oral sedation can hardly put you to sleep throughout your dental treatment! If it does, your dentist probably has prescribed an over dosage for you and put you at high risks for medical emergency! What oral sedation normally does is to make you feel calm and sleepy or less alert during the treatment.
IV (intravenous) sedation:
Sedation is a method of administering drugs directly into the bloodstream in order to diminish consciousness to a patient. This type of sedation is much more effective than oral sedation. Special facility and equipments are required in order for your dentist to administer this type of sedation. The risk of having medical complications are also greater compared to previously discussed sedation methods.