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Relaxing in a comfortable chair, wrapped in an afghan and listening to Barry Manilow may not be how one envisions a dental visit. However, for fans of the pop star, this specialized care helps some patients soothe dental anxiety. Many dentists are turning to music, television, pillows, blankets, aromatherapy, calming office decor and even hand massages and virtual-reality glasses to help patients overcome dental anxiety.
New amenities may help create a calming, friendly environment, yet studies prove that the most important factor in overcoming dental anxiety is good dentist-patient communication.
It is estimated that up to 40 million Americans don't go to the dentist because of fear and anxiety.
"Today's dentists recognize dental anxiety is a real condition," says Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson William Kuttler, DDS, FAGD. "Helping patients overcome their fear of visiting the dentist has become just as important as mastering the latest clinical technique."
Establishing trust and keeping patients informed and in control throughout a visit to the dentist helps calm dental anxiety. One option is using hand signals to communicate with the dentist throughout a procedure. "If patients feel uncomfortable, all they have to do is signal and we stop," says Dr. Kuttler. "Empowering the patient ensures they return and makes visiting the dentist a priority in one's overall health care routine."
Patients can help by discussing their fear of visiting the dentist openly and honestly with their dentist.
If not addressed, dental anxiety can lead to unnecessary oral health problems as a result of avoiding the dentist, which in turn can end up leading to much more time spent in the dental chair when treatment is the only option.
Regular six-month preventive checkups help detect oral health problems early, acquainting patients with procedures that can help overcome fears of visiting the dentist.
Reviewed: January 2012
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