Understanding Fear and Sedation Dentistry

dental anxietySometimes going to the dentist can be a stress-inducing event, especially when you have a lot of dental work to get done. Severe anxiety surrounding the dentist can turn you into another person.

Anxiety can make you antsy, fidgety, and even physically ill. It can make you feel achy, give you cold sweats, and cause you to feel unable to speak. This isn’t conducive to a successful trip to the dentist.

In the words of the Ramones, you might “wanna be sedated.” One thing that you should know about your dental anxiety is that you’re not alone. Dental phobia is incredibly common. Just like general anxiety disorder, it can occur on a spectrum in varying degrees and intensities.

At the same time, there is a time and a place for fear. Sometimes fear can save your life, other times it’s your brains irrational reaction to some stimulus in your life.

How Fear Works

Scientifically, fear is caused by natural chemicals in your brain that trigger irrational emotions and responses to those emotions. When you become scared your heart rate increases, your muscles tighten, and your “fight or flight” responses engage.

Fear is a domino effect in the brain that begins when you’re put in a situation that stresses you out. When the stress kicks in, there’s an outburst of chemicals in your brain that creates a variety of physical and emotional responses.

You might get stressed from the dentist’s office in the same way that you would get scared if you were face-to-face with a snake or spider.

Your brain is a complicated organ. There are over 100 billion nerve cells that make up a matrix that’s responsible for how we perceive the world around us. Not to mention, these nerve cells control what we think and do.

Every millisecond of the day your brain cells are carrying information around and prompting responses, some of these responses result in fear. Certain parts of the brain are responsible for how your brain processes and controls its fear.

The process of making fear happens entirely subconsciously. This means you have absolutely no control over what will trigger your anxieties. Just as you don’t have control over a fear of spiders or enclosed spaces, you don’t have control over the fact that you’re scared of the dentist.

What your brain does next with this fear is where “anxiety” comes from. After you feel scared your brain has 2 options. One of those is the quick response that doesn’t take a chance. The part of your brain that “shoots first and ask questions later.” The other response is to thoughtfully rationalize why you’re scared and to figure out if your fear makes sense.

Imagine this scenario in your head. Say you’re in bed at night, and you hear a loud noise on your door that jolts you out of sleep. When your brain takes the low road, you’d react by thinking there’s a burglar, jump out of bed, grab your gun, and go to the front door to stop the “intruder.” Only you’d get to the door only to find wind hitting it.

When your brain takes the high road, you’d rationalize the sound in bed. You would think “oh wow, what a scary sound. It could be an intruder, or it could be the wind. It’s probably the wind,” and then you’d soundly drift back into sleep.

When you have an overactive amygdala (the part of your brain that takes action to protect you), then you’re more likely to take the impulsive fight-or-flight response. This is your brain’s way of saving yourself from whatever it perceives as harmful.

In the case of someone who’s suffering from dental anxiety, the dentist or dentist’s office would be the potential threat.

Why would your brain see the dentist as a threat?

Evolutionarily, fear was created for humans to survive in the wild. Humans and all animals needed fear to perceive threats and quickly respond to them. If you came across a lion in the wild, you’d need your fear to kick in for increased strength and muscle function to run away.

In modern times, we don’t need fear to fight for our lives. In some ways, it’s an outmoded instinct. However, this response still serves its place to keep us out of trouble. Like being scared of walking down a dark alley in the middle of the night or avoiding other potentially dangerous activities.

And in a way, the dentist could be potentially dangerous. If you had a bad experience as a child, maybe a painful cavity filling or tooth pulling. Or maybe you went to an incompetent dentist, who botched your dental work. Most people who are scared of the dentist get triggered by smells or sounds of surgery – something that subconsciously causes them to fear for their lives. Another trigger of dental fear is being scared of needles or drills.

How Sedation Works

Scientifically, fear begins with chemicals. Therefore, scientifically, fear can be removed from your brain with chemicals. In the case of dental fear, provisional sedation medication can help.

Sedation is a way to chemically combat the fear you’re feeling. It’s offered in different levels from a mild conscious “laughing gas” to complete unconscious anesthesia. All of the forms of sedation work by slowing down your amygdala, so that you’re able to relax. Some forms of sedation, like an anesthetic, work by blocking your body’s ability to feel pain.

Conscious sedation uses chemicals to stimulate the GABA receptors in your brain. This causes your brain to release a natural neurotransmitter that helps your body calm down and your fight or flight responses to disengage.  

Having Anxiety About Medication

I understand that the idea of using sedation dentistry to get your dental work done might sound scary. It might feel like you’re cheating your anxiety by using an “unnatural” drug. However, sedation dentistry is incredibly safe and effective, or we wouldn’t recommend it.

If you’re anxious about taking sedation medication, then your mind can rest easily knowing that the doctors at Advanced Dental Center are highly certified and trained. They will take all of your physical and emotional characteristics into account before mapping out your dosing and choosing which form of sedation you should use.

Not to mention, before sedation is administered we take a comprehensive collection of your medical history to make sure that you’re given the right treatment plan. We’ll make sure that you don’t have any allergies or pre-existing health problems that will interfere with your treatment.

On the off chance that you had a bad reaction, we have reversal pills for benzodiazepines. There’s also an in-office defibrillator and everyone in your medical team will be trained in advanced cardiac life support, so you can feel safe and comfortable.

Learn More About Sedation Dentistry

If you’ve been putting your dental health on the back burner because of a fear of going to the dentist, then talk to your dentist about sedation dentistry. With sedation dentistry, you can get your dental work completed in a painless, carefree, and comfortable manner. It’s proven to help alleviate your fear of the dentist. If you’re still not convinced about the power of sedation dentistry in combating fear, then stay tuned to our blog for more information about sedation dentistry and teeth-related stories.