Dental visit anxiety is a serious problem: Half of all Americans admit to some level of dental fear, while 15% avoid dental care altogether due to acute anxiety. The harm this can cause to dental health is incalculable.
But dentists have a number of sedation techniques that can relax anxious patients and allow them to receive the care they need. Although often used together, sedation is slightly different from anesthesia, which aims to deaden pain sensation. The aim of sedation is to calm the emotions and state of mind.
Sedation isn't a new approach: Physicians have used substances like root herbs or alcohol to relieve anxiety since ancient times. Modern dentistry also has a long history with sedation, dating from the early 1800s with the first use of nitrous oxide gas.
Modern dental sedation has expanded into an array of drugs and techniques to match varying levels of anxiety intensity. At the milder end of the scale are oral sedatives, taken an hour or so before a dental appointment to produce a calmer state. This may be enough for some patients, or it can be used in conjunction with nitrous oxide.
For those with more intense anxiety, dentists can turn to intravenous (IV) sedation. In this case, the sedative is delivered directly into the bloodstream through a small needle or catheter inserted in a vein. This causes a quicker and deeper reaction than oral sedatives.
Although similar to general anesthesia, IV sedation does differ in significant ways. Rather than unconsciousness, IV sedation places a patient in a “semi-awake” state that may still allow them respond to verbal commands. And although the patient's vital signs (heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, etc.) must be monitored, the patient doesn't need breathing assistance as with anesthesia.
There's one other benefit: The drugs used often have an amnesic effect, meaning the patient won't remember the treatment experience after recovery. This can be helpful in creating more pleasant memories of their dental experience, which could have its own sedative effect in the future.
Whether oral, gas or IV, sedatives are a safe and effective way to calm dental fears during treatment. That could help someone with anxiety maintain their oral health.
If you would like more information on reducing dental anxiety, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
If you're a parent, raising kids can be a great adventure. It can also rev up your stress meter in a heartbeat. One area in particular can give you heartburn: your child's lack of enthusiasm for visiting the dentist.
Dental anxiety in varying degrees in children isn't uncommon. At times, it can be difficult for everyone involved for a child to receive the dental care they need if they're in an upset or agitated state. Fortunately, though, there are things you can do to minimize your child's dental anxiety.
First, start regular dental visits as early as possible, usually around their first birthday. Children who begin seeing the dentist earlier rather than later are more apt to find the sights, sounds and other experiences of a dental office a routine part of life.
You might also consider using a pediatric dentist for your child. Pediatric dentists specialize in child dental care, and have specific training and experience interacting with children. Pediatric dental offices are also usually “kid friendly” with toys, videos, books and interior decorations that children find appealing.
Your attitude and demeanor during a dental visit can also have an effect on your child. Children in general take their cues for how to feel from their caregivers. If you're nervous and tense while with them at the dentist, they may take that as a sign they should feel the same way. In contrast, if you're calm and relaxed, it may help them to be calm and relaxed.
Along the same lines, your attitude and level of commitment to dental care, both at home and at the dentist, will rub off on them. The best way to do that is by setting the example: not only as you brush and floss every day, but during your own dental visits. Take them with you: If they see you're not anxious about your care, it may improve their own feelings about their care.
The main goal is to try to make your child's overall dental experience as positive and pleasant as possible. The benefits of this can extend far beyond the present moment into their adult lives.
If you would like more information on your child's dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Taking the Stress Out of Dentistry for Kids.”
There are a few mouth conditions so rare most of us have never heard of them. Geographic tongue would fall into this category, affecting only one to three percent of the population. Even so, these irregular reddish patches resembling land masses on a map (hence the name) might be alarming at first glance—but they pose no danger and usually cause very little discomfort.
Geographic tongue is also known as benign migratory glossitis. As its clinical name implies, the unusual red patchy areas (often surrounded by a grayish white border) aren't cancerous nor contagious. The patches also appear to change shape and move around ("migrate") the tongue.
The reddish appearance comes from the temporary disappearance of tiny bumps on the tongue surface called papillae, which can leave the tongue smooth to the touch in affected areas. The lost papillae may reappear again a few hours or days later, and may occasionally disappear again. While it's not painful, you can experience a stinging or burning sensation emitting from these patchy areas.
We're not sure how and why geographic tongue erupts, but it's believed high emotional or psychological stress, hormonal imbalance or certain vitamin deficiencies might be factors in its cause. There may also be a link between it and psoriasis, a condition that can cause dry, itchy patches on the skin.
If you're one of the rare individuals who has episodes of geographic tongue, the good news is it's harmless, only mildly uncomfortable and usually temporary. The bad news, though, is that there's no known cure for the condition—but it can be managed to ease discomfort during outbreaks.
It's been found that highly acidic and spicy foods, as well as astringents like alcohol or some mouthrinses, can increase the level of discomfort. By avoiding these or similar foods or substances, you can reduce the irritation. Your dentist may also be able to help by prescribing anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines or steroid ointments.
For the most part, you'll simply have to wait it out. Other than the mild, physical discomfort, the worst part is often simply the appearance of the tongue. But by watching your diet and other habits, and with a little help from us, you can cope with these irritations when it occurs.
If you would like more information on geographic tongue and similar oral issues, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Geographic Tongue: No Cause for Alarm.”
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
Moving teeth through orthodontics may involve more than simply wearing braces. There are many bite conditions that require extra measures before, during or after traditional orthodontic treatment to improve the outcome.
One such measure is extracting one or more teeth. Whether or not we should will depend on the causes behind a patient's poor dental bite.
Here, then, are 4 situations where tooth extraction before orthodontics might be necessary.
Crowding. This happens when the jaw isn't large enough to accommodate all the teeth coming in. As a result, later erupting teeth could erupt out of position. We can often prevent this in younger children with space maintainers or a palatal expander, a device which helps widen the jaw. Where crowding has already occurred, though, it may be necessary to remove selected teeth first to open up jaw space for desired tooth movement.
Impacted teeth. Sometimes an incoming tooth becomes blocked and remains partially or fully submerged beneath the gums. Special orthodontic hardware can often be used to pull an impacted tooth down where it should be, but not always. It may be better to remove the impacted tooth completely, as well as its matching tooth on the other side of the jaw to maintain smile balance before orthodontically correcting the bite.
Front teeth protrusion. This bite problem involves front teeth that stick out at a more horizontal angle. Orthodontics can return the teeth to their proper alignment, but other teeth may be blocking that movement. To open up space for movement, it may be necessary to remove one or more of these obstructing teeth.
Congenitally missing teeth. The absence of permanent teeth that failed to develop can disrupt dental appearance and function, especially if they're near the front of the mouth. They're often replaced with a dental implant or other type of restoration. If only one tooth is missing, though, another option would be to remove the similar tooth on the other side of the jaw, and then close any resulting gaps with braces.
Extracting teeth in these and other situations can help improve the chances of a successful orthodontic outcome. The key is to accurately assess the bite condition and plan accordingly.
If you would like more information on orthodontic options, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Removing Teeth for Orthodontic Treatment.”
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