Overcoming dental anxiety

High dental anxiety affects approximately one in six Australian adults and about one in 10 children, according to the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health at the University of Adelaide.

Here we will consider why people experience dental anxiety and some techniques patients and practitioners can use to help reduce dental anxiety.

Why do we experience dental anxiety?

While it has generally been regarded that the underlying cause of dental anxiety is as the result of direct negative dental experiences, the nature of dental anxiety is more complicated than what is commonly presumed, according to the University of Adelaide.

“Patients are generally placed in a reclined position, increasing their sense of powerlessness, and are afforded little control over the situation,” the report reads.

“Often the clinician’s probing, scraping and drilling are unpredictable from the patient’s perspective, who is unable to see into their own mouth, and this can heighten their perceived lack of control.

“In addition, the dental practitioner is literally inside the oral cavity of the patient which represents both an intrusion into the patient’s personal space and a significant concern for people with heightened disgust sensitivity.

“These inherent aspects of the dental experience may lead to negative perceptions relating to the dental visit and these may directly result in anxiety.”

Interestingly, despite considerable advancements in dental techniques and the modern idea of pain-free dentistry, a recent Australian study also found that 85% of the adult population are still at least a little anxious about painful or uncomfortable procedures when they make a dental visit.

What are the consequences of dental anxiety?

Dentally anxious individuals, because of their avoidant behaviours, often have poorer dental health. In particular, those people who delay dental visiting for a prolonged time, even if experiencing considerable pain, might have extensive problems that require more complex and complicated treatment.

How can patients and practitioners minimise dental anxiety?

Shire Dental believes effective communication and trust form the backbone of any dental anxiety management approach. We are committed to building rapport with our patients and establishing effective two-way interaction, including attending to non-verbal cues.

Here are a few ways we do this:

  • Tell-show-do: This involves an explanation of what is about to happen, followed by a demonstration of the procedure. The ‘do’ phase is then undertaken by carrying out the procedure.
  • Rest breaks: Either the dental practitioner or patient may initiate breaks during a procedure.
  • Signalling: Specific signals, such as a raised hand, can be determined ahead of time so patients can communicate with their dentist that they want the treatment to stop.

How can I ensure my child doesn’t develop dental anxiety?

It is important children are introduced to dental visits early – we recommend the first visit occurs when they are around three-years-old. This can help reduce anxiety about going to the dentist, plus it allows your dentist to monitor development and cleaning habits.

Regular visits to the dentist means early detection, and when abnormalities or decay are caught early, then treatment can be minimal and less invasive, reducing the risk of dental anxiety developing in the future.

Did you know?

One of Sydney’s leading talk-back hosts who has coined the phrase ‘Painless Pete’, reflecting on his treatment with Dr Peter Bouboulos at Shire Dental. Find out more about our team here>


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