Dental Anxiety: Overcoming Emotional Barriers to Physical Health

Dental anxiety is so common that it has become part of our shared cultural consciousness. Researchers estimate that as many as 75% of people in the United States have some form of dental anxiety. For some, dental fear develops in response to negative past experiences while others can’t pinpoint the origin of their apprehension. Dental anxiety is often focused on specific aspects of dental treatment, such as injections, drills, or hygiene instruments that may produce pain. Others fear that they will be lectured, admonished, or embarrassed while others a sense of vulnerability and powerlessness during the dental experience that can produce overwhelming emotional distress. For 9-15% of people, dental anxiety is so severe that it becomes a phobia, preventing you from visiting the dentist, keeping you from vital care, and compromising your health. Not only does dental phobia heighten risk of gum disease and tooth loss, it can also contribute to the development of other conditions related to poor oral health, including heart disease and lung infections. Often, however, the most severe effects come in the form of lost confidence and self-esteem.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Dental Anxiety

If dental anxiety is preventing you from visiting the dentist, seeking support from experienced mental health professionals can help you learn to manage your fears and fortify your ability to care for your oral health. The most promising form of therapy for dental anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a short-term, solution-focused therapeutic modality that helps you break through negative thoughts and gain the skills you need to cope with emotional distress. By activating your innate ability to alleviate fearful thinking, CBT can not only help you develop strategies for creating meaningful change, it can also enhance your sense of self-determination.

A study published this month in the British Dental Journal found that cognitive behavioral therapy can significantly reduce dental anxiety and dental phobia even in patients who typically rely on sedation during dental treatment. Researchers at King’s College London Dental Institute invited 130 research subjects to participate in a specialized CBT program aimed at disrupting fear-based thoughts and establishing healthier cognitive and behavioral patterns through a combination of psychoeducation, relaxation exercises, and skill building. By teaching participants to naturally allay their anxieties, CBT empowered them to participate in dental treatment without the risks associated with sedation. As Dr. Tim Newton, lead researcher on author of the study, says:

“People with dental phobia are most commonly given sedation to allow them to become relaxed enough for a short period of time to have their dental treatment performed. However this does not help them to overcome their fear in the long term. The primary goal of our CBT service is to enable patients to receive dental treatment without the need for sedation, by working with each individual patient to set goals according to their priorities. Our study shows that after on average five CBT sessions, most people can go on to be treated by the dentist without the need to be sedated.”

In fact, upon completion of therapy, the overwhelming majority of patients – a full 79% - were able to have dental treatment without sedation.


Dental Treatment Without Fear in Fountain Valley

At Dr. Kvarnstrom’s Fountain Valley dental practice, our team provides compassionate care in a warm, welcoming atmosphere. We understand that simply coming in for an appointment is a major victory for many and we seek to create the most positive treatment experiences possible to help you optimize your oral health and overall wellbeing. Dr. Kvarnstrom is known for his gentle touch and always goes over each step of the examination or treatment process to ensure that you understand exactly what is happening and what to expect. You are never rushed into procedures and you always have the final say regarding your care.

As part of our commitment to providing the best possible dental care, we use state-of-the-art technologies designed to minimize discomfort and enhance the experiences of our patients. Chief among these is our Biolase Waterlase dental laser, a remarkable instrument that replaces traditional instruments such as drills and scalpels to allow for more positive, rapid treatment. Laser dentistry allows us to remove decay and prepare teeth for fillings without the need for injections or the unpleasant sounds and sensations of rotary instruments. Gum surgery can be performed with reduced bleeding and minimal trauma to delicate tissue, often without injectable anesthesia. While the Biolase Waterlase has tremendous benefits for all of our patients, many who come to us with dental anxiety find that laser dentistry is particularly valuable, significantly reducing fear and transforming the dental experience from one of stress to one of ease and comfort.

For people with severe dental anxiety, it can be helpful to come in and meet with Dr. Kvarnstrom to develop a trusting relationship and have the opportunity to discuss your goals and concerns prior to treatment. We encourage you to tell us how we can help make your dental experience as positive and stress-free as possible and if you have any special requests that will make you feel more at ease. While Dr. Kvarnstrom can provide prescription sedatives, exceedingly few of our patients  - even those with dental phobia - find that they need them once they are introduced to our practice and experience the benefits of laser dentistry.

We invite you to contact us to learn more about Dr. Kvarnstrom and his team or to set up an appointment at our Fountain Valley dental office.