DENTAL FEAR & ANXIETY

Anxious About Going to the Dentist?
Dogs Like Leo can Help

Leo the Dog

For some, going to the dentist is not a pleasant experience. Some of the most common dental fears include fear of gagging, of injections, of pain and of the sound of the drill. Luckily some of those techniques have been replaced such as painless laser beams to replace the noisy drill. But for those who still feel anxiety and fear, Cherry Hill Dental Excellence has a solution and it is a cuddly one.

His name is Leo. Leo is a Therapy Dog, trained by Pet Assisted Visitation Volunteer Services, Inc. (PAWS).  PAWS is an all-volunteer nonprofit pet assisted therapy organizations training pets all over Delaware and the surrounding counties of Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to bring smiles, brighter attitudes and calmer emotions to those who suffer from depression and anxiety. Leo works out of the offices of Cherry Hill Dental Excellence and he is the family pet of the practice’s owner, Dr. Zahra Afsharzand.

“When Leo was a puppy, I often kept him in my separate office at the practice because I did not want to leave him alone all day.” says Afsharzand.  “When I took him out for his walks, etc. my patients just loved him and I realized he could be of service to them, especially new patients who are often more anxious than my regular patients.”

How the program works is Leo must accomplish 200 hours of service, like an internship, to be officially certified as a AKC Therapy Dog. He started his training already at Cherry Hill Dental Excellence. Willing regular patients and staff volunteers are participating. They sit with Leo in a separate room and Leo is trained to sit with them, not jump or chase anything and keep the patient calm and ready for their procedure. So far, Leo has put in 30 hours of service and is soon ready for his certification.

Dr. Afsharzand has more than 27 years of experiences as a dentist and prosthodontist, which specializes in the restoration of oral function by creating prostheses and custom restorations. She completed her graduate training at Temple University and taught for several years as an adjunct professor at University of Pennsylvania. Her Cherry Hill Dental Excellence practice provide general and specialty prosthodontic dental treatment, as well as treatment for periodontal disease, orthodontics, cosmetic dentistry and others. She is a member of the American College of Prosthodontics, the American Cleft-Palate Craniofacial Association and the American Dental Association.

Comfort and safety are top of mind at Cherry Hill Dental Excellence. “We know there is often a stigma about going to the dentist,” observes Dr A. “So, we keep our atmosphere warm and relaxing with cool colors and friendly staff and now Leo, our therapy dog. Smiling, she adds, “He is the one staff member everyone loves the most.”

Here is a list of some of the most common dental fears:

  • Fear of embarrassment about the condition of teeth.
  • Fear of gagging.
  • Fear of injections.
  • Fear of loss of control.
  • Fear of not becoming numb when injected with Novocain.
  • Fear of pain.
  • Fear of the dentist as a person.
  • Fear of the hand piece (or the drill).

How can one overcome dental anxiety?

Dental anxiety and fear can become completely overwhelming.  It is estimated that as many as 35 million people do not visit the dental office at all because they are too afraid.  Receiving regular dental check ups and cleanings is incredibly important. Having regular routine check ups is the easiest way to maintain excellent oral hygiene and reduce the need for more complex treatments.

Here are some tips to help reduce dental fear and anxiety:

Talk to the dentist – The dentist is not a mind reader.  Though it can be hard to talk about irrational fears with a stranger, the dentist can take extra precautions during visits if fears and anxiety are communicated.

Bring a portable music player – Music acts as a relaxant and also drowns out any fear-producing noises.  Listening to calming music throughout the appointment will help to reduce anxiety.

Agree on a signal – Many people are afraid that the dentist will not know they are in significant pain during the appointment, and will carry on the procedure regardless.  The best way to solve this problem is to agree on a “stop” hand signal with the dentist.  Both parties can easily understand signals like raising the hand or tapping on the chair.

Spray the throat – Throat sprays (for example, Vicks® Chloraseptic® Throat Spray) can actually control the gag reflex.  Two or three sprays will usually keep the reflex under control for about an hour.

Take a mirror – Not being able to see what is happening can increase anxiety and make the imagination run wild.  Watching the procedure can help keep reality at the forefront of the mind.

Sedation – If there is no other way to cope, sedation offers an excellent option for many people.  There are several types of sedation, but the general premise behind them is the same: the patient regains their faculties after treatment is complete. For further information, please see our page on Sedation Dentistry.

Ask about alternatives – Advances in technology mean that dental microsurgery is now an option. Lasers can be used to prepare teeth for fillings, whiten teeth and remove staining.  Discuss all the options with the dentist and decide on one that is effective and produces minimal anxiety.