Fear is so normal and natural that every form of life that has consciousness experiences it at least occasionally.
Many animals, especially humans, come into the world completely helpless, a condition that naturally causes fear and anxiety. Most people don’t remember farther back than about age 4 or 5, but it’s not difficult to imagine what it must be like to wonder if mom is coming with food, or if a predator is coming to feast on us.
In time, and with loving care, we learn to trust our parents and other caregivers. However, some of us don’t always have loving and trustworthy caregivers, which can lead to struggles trusting others.
Even those of us that grow up with trustworthy caregivers can still experience fear and anxiety. Healthy functioning comes from learning to balance anxiety with trust.
Our brains are typically divided into three parts, specifically:
- The lizard brain, or reptilian section – this part of the brain controls our most primal urges, to fight, flee, freeze, feed, and reproduce. Essentially, the lizard brain is responsible for keeping us alive and passing on our genes.
- The limbic region, sometimes referred to as the monkey brain – this part of the brain allows us to develop relationships with our parents and others. Reptiles do not form attachments to their offspring, or any other creature. This part of the brain also encourages us to act on impulse.
- The cortex – this part of the brain allows us to keep our impulses in check and function on a higher level than most other mammals. This part of the brain is not fully developed until we are in our mid-twenties, which is why those younger than about 25 often act without thinking.
Understanding these regions of the brain and how they develop just goes to show that humans are designed to establish relationships. Doing so increases our chances of survival and provides peace of mind.
Children who have reliably nurturing caregivers are fortunate. Many of us, even with mostly positive upbringings, still experience times when trust is broken. The more often this happens, the more likely we are to experience excessive anxiety and fear.
Visits to the dentists are considered by many to be an anxiety-provoking experience. Every time we visit the dentist and experience pain, the pain is just part of the experience. We also experience a decrease in trust in the dentist to be caring and gentle.
A patient that understands how trust and anxiety work has the courage to seek out a dentist committed to minimizing pain and easing anxiety. A dentist who understands this dynamic makes a strong commitment to putting patients at ease.
There are a number of things a dentist can do to make patients comfortable.
Effectively Treating Patients With Dental Anxiety
Historically, dental equipment made pain during dentistry almost inevitable. As a result, easing dental anxiety was near impossible. The administration of anesthetic was itself quite painful, requiring large and intimidating needles, which did nothing to ease the fear in anxious patients.
While some dental offices still use some of these old methods, times are changing. The development of lasers, low-heat motors, micro-abrasions, and other techniques make anesthetic unnecessary for many procedures. In those cases where anesthetic is needed, potent topical anesthetics and smaller needles with pH-neutral formulas warmed to near body temperature make administering anesthetic virtually pain-free.
Most patients feel nothing when anesthetic is used, though some may experience brief and mild discomfort.
Just as important as minimizing pain and trauma is a dentist that understands the impact of painful procedures on both mental and physical health. For many patients, having a dentist that takes time to get to know them and reassure them can be a powerful first step in regaining trust.
In our office, there are three unbreakable rules:
- We pay attention. Any time a patient raises their hand, that’s our cue to stop. Whether the patient is experiencing discomfort or simply needs to take a break for a minute, we stop and take care of the patient’s needs.
- We communicate. We will tell you what we’re going to do before we do it, so there are no surprises. You should always be an active partner in your care, and we treat you that way.
- Under no circumstances do we EVER hurt a patient.
We Love Easing Dental Phobia
Dental phobia is, unfortunately, all too common. We pride ourselves in doing whatever it takes to ease anxiety. Every time we listen to a patient or finish a procedure without pain, we help the patient realize visit the dentist doesn’t have to be scary.
Every single day, we help anxious patients calm their lizard brains and reestablish trust, while giving them brighter, dazzling smiles. We can’t think of anything more important.
Call (619) 640-5100 to make an appointment for a free consultation with Dr. Paige Woods, DDS