According to data collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), 46 percent of American adults over the age of 30 have some level of gum disease with nearly 9 percent having severe periodontitis (chronic bacterial inflammation of the gums). (www.ada.org/en/science-research/science-in-the-news/periodontal-disease-affects-nearly-half-us-population)
In a separate study, 473 dental patients of varying ages, education levels, frequency of dental visits, reasons for irregular attendance and existence of past traumatic experiences were analyzed. Based upon questionnaires and testing protocols, they were categorized into three segments relating to dental fear and anxiety. As with the number of those who have gum disease, I found it equally concerning that the prevalence of dental anxiety among those in the study was almost 59 percent. (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4432608/)
This leaves us with over half an adult population who are fearful or anxious about going to a dentist AND nearly half of adults who have developed gum disease. Those are huge numbers! Coincidence?
In the dental anxiety study, no patterns of age or education levels stood out although women showed higher anxiety or fear levels than men. Not surprisingly, past traumatic experiences were found to result in elevated anxiety and fear. There was also an inverse relationship between frequency of dental visits and anxiety.
Although there remain unknowns in this study, there is no doubt that anxiety associated with dental visits is a widespread issue. To no surprise, people who visited the dentist more regularly and individuals without previous traumatic dental experiences were less anxious.
Those of us in the dental profession who know that dental care can – and should be – administered without discomfort? When a patient perceives otherwise, it is ultimately the first domino to fall. A patient who is anxious or fearful of perceived pain may delay or avoid care. When dental cleanings and necessary repairs are delayed or avoided, the need for care can become more complex or involved. The more complicated treatment becomes, the greater the dread becomes for the patient.
Patients often relax with the help of oral sedation. For some, that gets them over the initial hump until they become relaxed and confident in our care and decide to forgo it. However, a patient who is anxious or fearful must be willing to walk in the door in the first place. Some high-fear patients have such intense fear levels, or ‘dental phobia,’ they can barely force themselves to call a dental office, let alone walk into one.
While we are sensitive to the concerns of all patients, we pride ourselves on our relationships with those who have had unfortunate experiences in dental offices in the past that have contributed to fear or anxiety associated with dentistry. For all new patients, we begin with a private consultation. This takes place in a consultation room rather than a dental chair.
If you or someone you know has delayed or avoided care due to dental fear, it is important that they understand the ramifications to their overall health in addition to their smile. Research has linked the infectious bacteria of gum disease to serious health problems that extend far beyond the mouth.
Periodontal disease is a chronic infection that can become bloodborne through weakened gum tissue. It has been found to trigger systemic inflammation and linked to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressures, arthritis, diabetes, preterm babies, some cancers, impotency and erectile dysfunction.
We’d like to help you achieve a confident smile and enjoy the many benefits of good oral health. Start with a phone call to schedule a free, no obligation consultation so we can get to know one another in a comfortable setting.
From there, you can determine how you wish to proceed. However, if you have doubts, ask to speak to some of our patients who, like you, had dental anxiety or fear upon arriving and now smile with confidence.