Dental Dilemmas And Defense: When Care Is Strained By Sensory-Related Problems

Drills are buzzing and people are hovering around your open mouth. Questions are thrown at you while they poke around on your gums, applying various substances to your teeth. Yep, you're at the dentist. For some people, a visit to the dentist means sensory overload. However, by bringing your discomfort to your dentist's attention, the dental experience can change from distressing to more comfortable.

How Your Senses Can Sabotage Your Dental Visit

Thanks to the five senses, our brain is able to understand what is happening to us and occurring in our environment. However, some people become overwhelmed by experiences that cause sensory overload. For many, a visit to the dentist is one of those experiences. 

Your natural-born senses are hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, and tasting. During a dental visit, each one of these senses is touched in some way. Some examples of these sensory experiences include:

  • Sight: bright lights, potentially frightening dental tools, x-rays, blood
  • Sound: dental tools, crying children, dental staff questions
  • Taste: toothpaste/fluoride flavorings, sterile equipment, blood
  • Touch: pain, frequent touching, pulling, pressure, gag reflex
  • Smell: sterilizing chemicals, burning (cauterizing), toothpaste/fluoride scents

Combine any one (or more) of these senses with unpleasant emotions and you have the recipe for a dental phobia.

How Your Dentist Can Help Alleviate Sensory-Related Treatment Anxiety

Your dentist's goal is to help you support the health of your teeth for as long as possible. One of the best ways to do that is by receiving preventative dental care and treatment when needed. However, fear caused by an unpleasant experience can lead you to avoid treatment resulting in more extensive problems. Dentists understand these fears. They can help you overcome them by providing you with soothing or palliative measures.

Some of the simple tools and techniques a dentist can offer are:

  • Earphones: Blocking out sound or providing soothing music can help patients that have difficulties related to sounds.
  • Movies/Television: Providing something pleasant or interesting to focus on during treatment can help those with sight related difficulties.
  • Communication: If you are sensitive to touch, your dentist can keep you informed of when and how you will be touched to help you be ready.
  • Aromatherapy and Soothing Cloths: The "medical" smells can be lessened with relaxing fragrances and warm, scented cloths.

For some patients, these simple measures may not be adequate. However, sedation dentistry involving partial or complete anesthesia is an option for those with severe fears or anxieties. Communicate with your dentist to make sure you receive the treatment you need in a comfortable way.