What’s That Smell?

woman thinking about dentist smellsWhen it comes to dental anxieties, there are strange sensory triggers that can cause the onset of an attack. Today, we’re going to talk about a unique study that tries to understand the emotions caused by dental experiences. They wanted to get to the bottom of the emotions surrounding the dental experience to figure out the best way to treat anxious patients.

Most of the previous studies on dental anxiety looked at patients, who were traumatized by the sight and sounds of a dental drill or anesthetic needle. In this study, they wanted to look at another impetus for dental fear – smells. If you’ve ever been to the dentist, you know there are very distinct smells in dental offices.

The Emotional Power of Smells

No one really thinks of the power a certain odor can have and the emotions, moods, and memories that smells can evoke. Smells have the power to make you happy, sad, or even stricken with fear. Think of the smell of fresh laundry, a cotton field in full bloom, or your grandmother’s attic. These smells can conjure so many different emotions. For instance, I knew a girl who enjoyed the smell of horse manure, because she associated it with childhood memories of her grandparent’s ranch.

The same goes for the smell of a dental office. If you’ve had bad experiences at a dental office, you’re going to associate those smells with negative emotions. This is because the olfactory system (the system that picks up smells) has an anatomical link to the part of the brain that’s used to store emotions and memories. A study in 1983 found that if you’re around an unfamiliar smell in a stressful situation, this odor has the power to induce fear or negativity at a later time.

Overwhelming Smells in the Dental Office

At Advanced Dental Center of Florence, we’re somewhat desensitized to the many smells of a dental setting. That doesn’t mean we aren’t aware of their existence. Most people who aren’t trained in dentistry can’t place the smells of a dentist’s office.

There are a lot of treatments that occur in a dental office. For instance, at any time there could be a cleaning, filling, tooth whitening, or root canal going on. Each of these treatments requires a random assortment of antiseptics, cements, casts, or healthy chemicals.

One of the most commonly unfamiliar smells in dental offices is an odor from eugenol. Zinc-oxide eugenol is a cement substance that some dentists use in restorative procedures that’s made from clove oil. Clove oil has a strong smell, but most people can’t place it. It turns out that we often use this substance in a lot of potentially painful restorative treatments. Most of the time, this substance is used in temporary crown or bridge.

Another “loud” odor is a substance called Cresatin (or metacresylacetate) that’s used as an antiseptic. Antiseptics tend to have strong odors because they need to be strong enough to kill off bacteria. Just think about the smell of rubbing alcohol, which is often used to kill microorganisms. Cresatin is used during root canals. You’ll know when it’s in the room because it’s a strong odor. However, if you have an especially keen sense of smell, you might smell somebody else’s root canal from down the hall.

There are a lot more smells that go into a dental office, asking your dentist about them can help you get a better handle on your surroundings and ease your dental anxiety. Another way to avoid the negative responses associated with dental anxiety is sedation dentistry.

At Advanced Dental Center of Florence, we conveniently offer sedation dentistry to help you unwind before procedures. Going to the dentist regularly is vital to your dental health. Don’t let your dental anxiety deter you from taking care of your health and well-being. Stay tuned to our blog to get more insider tips to feel comfortable at the dentist.