By: Jessica Wendt, RDH – The Gentle Dentist

Commonly “Feared” Dental ProceduresIf you are scared to go to the dentist, you are not alone. It is estimated that about 30-40 million Americans have some type of dental anxiety or phobia. This can stem from negative past experiences, pain, embarrassment, or a feeling of not being in control. Some people are even scared to have a simple healthy mouth teeth cleaning. Yet, most of the time it is the more extensive dental work that causes people to be extremely nervous. Many times patients do not fully understand what is being done so their mind is left to wander. Some commonly feared dental procedures will be addressed below and tips on how to cope.

  • Root Canal – The dreaded root canal. These two words alone cause most people to cringe but why? Most of the time it is because of a past experience where a root canal was painful. A root canal needs to be performed on a damaged or an infected tooth where the nerve is dying off. It is a procedure where the nerve tissue in the root of the tooth is removed and the nerve space is filled with a substance to seal it off. The tooth will then have a permanent filling placed and may also need to be crowned. If the tooth does have an active infection, it may be harder to get the tooth fully numb or it may require more anesthetic than normal. In some cases, a round of antibiotics a few days prior to the root canal appointment can lessen the infection, which in turn will lead to better numbness for the tooth. With proper anesthesia, a root canal should feel no different than a regular filling.
  • Tooth Extractions – No one usually looks forward to having a tooth extracted. Extractions tend to be a dentist’s last resort because having a full set of teeth is important for many reasons. A tooth may need to be extracted if it is beyond repair, painful, and a source of infection. Also, wisdom teeth may need to be electively extracted if they are impacted or very hard to keep clean. If an extraction is a must, the dentist will give adequate anesthesia so no pain is felt. There will be pressure at times, but there should not be any pain. If there is pain, make sure there is a signal that can be given so the dentist can stop and give more numbing medication. There may be some minimal post-operative bleeding, but do not let this alarm you. The dentist will give you warning signs on when to contact him or her for continued bleeding or pain.
  • Dental Implants – Dental implants are becoming more common in modern day dentistry to replace missing teeth. However, most people squirm at the idea of it. A dental implant is a titanium post that is surgically placed in the bone. The bone will heal and integrate into the threads of the post. Once this healing takes place, the post can be restored with a crown making it look just like a natural tooth. The fear usually comes because an implant requires dental surgery, but most patients are unaware that the bone around the teeth does not have nerve endings. The dentist will still give adequate anesthesia to numb the gum tissues where the post will be placed, but the bone itself will not be in any pain so to speak. From patient testimonies, it sounds like dental implants feel just like a normal tooth if not better, and there usually isn’t a noticeable difference between the two.

What to do for moderate to extreme dental fear?

If just numbing the tooth is not enough to calm your nerves, there is more a dentist can do to help ease dental anxiety. Most dentists have nitrous oxide gas in the office to help with relaxation. It was commonly referred to as laughing gas, but most people tend to relax and not laugh when they are on it. The gas is mixed with oxygen and then is inhaled by the patient through a nosepiece. It does produce a mild sedative effect, which wears off within five minutes after it is done being used.

For more extreme fear, some dentists offer either oral conscious sedation or IV sedation. These types of sedation do require a driver to and from the dental appointment. The oral conscious sedation is administered through a series of anxiety-reducing medications taken the night before and day of the dental procedure. In IV sedation, the anxiety medication is given in an IV in your arm. You will be very sleepy and relaxed, but will still be able to respond to verbal commands if necessary. Both types do create an amnesia effect in which patients have little to no memory of the procedure.  For additional information on sleep sedation, please visit our website at or call us at 586-247-3500. We look forward to hearing from you!