Tips To Manage Dental Anxiety For The Elderly
Fear of seeing a dentist is common. However, when that fear is magnified and becomes a phobia or dental anxiety, it can cause patients of any age to avoid professional dental attention. When that fear creates a habit of avoidance, oral hygiene issues can result.
If you are elderly, regardless of whether you wear dentures or not, it is important to have regular checkups with your dentist. The good news is that there are ways to manage and deal with any fear that you may have, which makes it easier for anxious patients to see their dentist.
The Difference Between A Dental Phobia And Dental Anxiety
A dental phobia is a far more serious condition than dental anxiety. A phobia in the elderly can result in panic and irrational fear that essentially scares them away from a dental office.
Someone with a dental phobia will do anything possible to skip having to see a dentist and may only ever see one if they are absolutely forced to. That force is usually in the form of extreme dental pain.
Signs of Dental Phobia
There are a few obvious signs that identify dental phobia. They include:
- Sleep issues the night before a dental appointment
- Nervousness that increases during the wait in the dental office
- Crying or physical illness from just thinking of seeing a dentist
- Uneasiness or difficulty breathing when dental objects are put in your mouth.
If the fear of seeing a dentist is not this intense, then it is likely not a phobia, but rather dental anxiety.
The Causes of Dental Anxiety
There are many reasons that an elderly patient can develop dental anxiety. They include:
1. The Fear of Pain
This is probably the most common reason why people will avoid dental visits. It also tends to be the result of a much earlier experience in a dentist’s chair that left a powerful impression.
Tip: The new technology currently in use at most dental offices employ less painful and even pain-free procedures. Ask your dentist to use these methods if you fear pain.
2. The Fear of Needles
Injection needles are scary to most people. Adding to this is the fear that the pain-minimization techniques used by dentists just won’t work. Needles that are inserted inside the mouth are particularly scary for many.
3. The Fear of Side Effects
When an anesthetic is administered, it may result in side effects after the procedure is completed. For the elderly, the potential dizziness or feeling light-headed can be frightening. In addition to this, nausea may occur.
Tip: The best remedy for these concerns is to stay in the dentist chair until the anesthetic has completely worn off. Make your dentist aware of your concerns and they can allow you to sit in the waiting room until you feel better.
4. The Fear of Helplessness
Not being able to see what is going on when you are reclined in a dentist chair with your mouth open is an uncomfortable feeling. Having objects going in and out of your mouth compounds this and creates a fear of helplessness or a loss of control.
Tip: One way to get around this is to have your dentist talk you through every step of the procedure. They can describe what they are doing and show you the tools as well.
5. The Fear of Lost Personal Space
The physical closeness of a dentist or assistant to the face can be unsettling in many people. For adults and the elderly they often begin to feel self-conscious of their appearance and dental hygiene. The possibility of mouth odors can add to this fear.
Tip: Having your dental professional take breaks during the procedure can help ease this discomfort. By ‘breaking’ and moving away, you can relax a little more. Also, for more information on dental hygiene and the best ways to keep dentures clean, click here.
Additional Tips To Easing Dental Anxiety
Probably the best way to ease your fear of a dental visit is to speak directly with the dentist. If an elderly member of your family is afraid to see the dentist, schedule a ‘get to know you’ visit first. This gives the anxious patient and dentist an opportunity to meet and discuss the procedure. The dentist should be made aware of the anxiety at this time so a plan can be implemented.
Dentists are aware that some people will avoid regular checkups because of their anxiety. This is why dentists are using different approaches to dental care in order to assist adults and the elderly who are afraid to see a dentist. If your dentist is not willing to help ease your fears, then you will know that in order to help yourself in this situation, you should see a different dentist.
Fear Of Seeing A Dentist Is Real
Because dental anxiety has such an impact on the oral health of adults and the elderly, it is important to encourage them to contact their local dental office and share their concerns. As stated above, there are many new methods in place that can turn a terrifying visit into a pleasant experience. A good experience can lead to regular dental checkups.