Dental Phobias

DR. MARK SWEENEY: Thirty years ago in dental schools they taught us that 50% of the adult population in the United States never goes to a dentist unless they have a crisis event like a toothache that kept them up all night. I never understood that until the internet came along. It’s been a boom to my fearful patients many of whom were so fearful that they couldn’t even bring themselves to call and make an appointment and now they’re able to get online, visit different dental offices and see just exactly where they feel like they’re going to be treated well. As we say in this office every chicken in town finds us eventually.

We have three different levels of sedation available for our patients. The first is nitrous oxide which many of my patients take advantage of. It’s also called laughing gas because at high levels it will stimulate you to laugh without anything really being all that funny. The reason it’s used in dentistry is because it does reduce anxiety and raises pain threshold. So many of my patients feel much more comfortable having their dental treatment done. The big advantage to nitrous oxide is you’re able to drive back to work or leave the office with no side effects from the nitrous oxide if it’s administered properly.

Our next level is to take a medication or prescription medication usually either Ativan or Halcion. Both of these are very safe medications. We used to use Valium but these two have supplanted Valium in my mind. They take effect quicker. They wear off more rapidly and they’re safer all the way around than Valium. But they do basically the same thing. They kind of put you out in left field for your dental appointment. The whole world kind of slows down and we’re able to do dentistry on fearful patients that want to be sedated but don’t want to be completely put to sleep.

That’s our third level. We work with two different dental anesthesiologist in Austin that will come here to our office and use either IV or general anesthetic to put a patient, especially our extreme phobic patients, completely to sleep. So we’re able to get their dentistry done in a timely manner. Usually in a single appointment we try to complete everything and the patient doesn’t even remember having been in our office.