Easing Dental Fears and Anxieties



The thought of visiting a dentist fills many people with fear and anxiety, so dentists urge you to share your concerns and consider the many ways they offer patient-centered care with maximum comfort and minimal pain.

“A major reason that many people do not seek dental treatment is ‘ fear of the dentist or dislike of being in a dental office,” says Dr. Jennifer Jenkins of Dental Design Studio in Norman. “Thankfully, patient-centered care has become the standard in our field. Many dental offices provide a more comfortable environment so that patients can be as relaxed as possible.”

Her office includes amenities such as private treatment rooms with windows, adjustable dental chairs for patients with back or neck pain, and the option of listening to music. She also emphasizes that communication is key.

“Teeth can be strange because it may not look like it hurts on an X-ray, CT scan or even when we look directly at a tooth,” Jenkins says. “The only way that the dental team can know what a patient is feeling is by the patient telling us. Our hope is that patients feel comfortable enough with us and our team that they can share with us.”

Dr. Creed Cardon of Spring Dental in Tulsa agrees that communication on both sides is the easiest way to create an anxiety-free trip to the dentist, and he makes sure his staff can treat patients of any kind.

“A big component is the team members we hire,” he says. “We train them heavily so they can communicate effectively with anyone. We want to see all patients from all walks of life. We try to have clean, open facilities where anyone can walk in and feel at home.”

Dr. Mike McInelly, owner of Spring Dental, says the root of dental care should start with the patient, not the procedure.

“How we think about the experience is starting with a patient and working backwards into how we map that patient’s care,” he says.

Dr. Lauren Avery, co-founder of Mint Dental in Tulsa, highlights patient comforts such as massage chairs, quiet hand-pieces and intraoral cameras. And for patients with serious dental phobia, Avery offers two kinds of sedation, nitrous oxide and oral sedation.

“The nitrous oxide just relieves anxiety; it “takes the edge off’ and helps people relax,” Avery says. “It is immediately reversible after a few minutes of 100 percent oxygen at the end of the procedure.

“With oral sedation, we give people medication to make them very relaxed ‘ in a state between asleep and awake. We monitor their blood pressure and oxygen levels throughout the procedure to maintain safety. They have to take the whole day off and have a caretaker to drive them to and from the appointment and help them that afternoon. The patient usually has no memory of the appointment.”

Jenkins and Cardon stress that overcoming a fear of the dentist is important to your overall health.

“Periodontal or gum disease has been scientifically linked to major health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, adverse pregnancy outcomes and osteoporosis,” Jenkins says. “Untreated dental decay can lead to infections that can be life threatening in some situations.”

Cardon adds that psychological benefits can accompany a healthy set of teeth and gums.

“If you are missing a front tooth … it really plays with your confidence,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve fixed a front tooth on someone and they say, “I can finally go to that job interview now,’ or “I can finally get married now.’ They can do things they feel like they couldn’t have done before because of the way they looked.”

Jenkins says having functional, pain-free teeth helps to improve your quality of life.

“Although many people are not fond of visiting the dental office, routine dental care helps make life the best that it can be,” she says. “We encourage everyone to find their dental home where they can establish and build long-term relationships with their dental team.”

Hi-Tech = More Choice

New dental technologies give patients more options. A popular choice to help straighten teeth is Invisalign, custom-made clear aligners that fit over your teeth and slowly shift your teeth into place.

Dr. Mike Hinkle, founder of Utica Dental in Tulsa, is an award-winning, preferred provider of Invisalign. He often lectures on the benefits of Invisalign and has had six patient cases published among Invisalign’s “Best 100 Cases in the World,” a showcase of top clinical outcomes. He has found that Invisalign fixes bite problems faster and more predictably than regular metal braces.

“Invisalign is superior to metal braces in almost every category of treatment for orthodontic therapy,” Hinkle says. “Invisalign allows the patient to keep their mouth 200 percent cleaner than regular braces so you have a fraction of the decay and spotting that is normal after braces are removed.”

He also remarks that benefits of having straight teeth include making it easier to keep your teeth clean, reducing your chance of cracked or broken teeth, and decreasing your risk of periodontal disease.

Avery notes that Invisalign isn’t only for adults.

“We also can treat teens with Invisalign if they are responsible, since they will need to not throw away the appliance,” she says. “What people may not know is that a limited five- to six-month Invisalign treatment for minor corrections of anterior teeth is very popular.”

Avery says another trend in dentistry is a renewal of conservative tooth restorations because of the ability to join materials to a tooth.

“We used to be able to do this when gold was popular,” she says. “Then when people wanted porcelain or white teeth, we weren’t able to give them that appearance without being more aggressive. We used to have to remove more tooth structure to restore teeth. For example, doing a crown that covers the entire tooth because we weren’t able to bond the materials to the tooth.

“Now, because our bonds are so strong, we can remove less tooth and actually bond the porcelain in place. The more of your natural tooth structure that is present, the better it is in the long run.”