Dental Anxiety and Oral Health

Anxiety is a real disease. Doctors have categorized it as a mental health disorder. And to treat it properly, we need to treat it like a disease. However, most dentists are not trained to provide anxiety-free dentistry to their patients. Dentists for anxious patients understand that the patient is not just there for dental care. The patient is there because the dentist recognizes the link between dental anxiety and phobias, and knows how to manage the patient’s anxiety while providing dental care. Lack of regular dental care leads to poor dental health, which leads to medical complications. We’ll first look at how anxiety can impact overall health and oral health negatively. Then we will look at how a dental anxiety dentist can help the patient overcome these obstacles.

anxiety impacts our mental health

Anxiety and Health

Anxiety, stress and depression form a deadly trio impacting the oral health

Anxiety, stress, and depression often go together. And they all lead to physiological changes in the body which can impact the patient’s health negatively. These 3 represent the corners of a triangle forming a vicious cycle. Anxiety can lead to stress and/or depression. Depression can cause anxiety and place the patient under more stress. And stress can lead to feeling anxious which can also cause depression. You can see how these are so closely intertwined.

One of the common physiological symptoms we see as a result of anxiety is high blood pressure. This places a greater amount of workload on the cardiovascular system and increases the risk of heart disease or stroke. Stressed and anxious patients often have a high blood sugar levels. This can lead to diabetes in the long run. Stress also causes the body to slow down its metabolism. This in turn results in the body storing more of its energy backup in the form of fat. This weight gain can negatively impact a patient’s self-image, which can lead to depression. Anxiety also places a greater load on the body’s immune system. Since the body’s defense mechanism is stretched thin, this leaves the body more prone to developing different ailments (e.g. catching a cold). Who would have thought that mental health can have such significant health consequences?

Anxiety and Mental Health

Anxiety is classified as a mental health disorder. This means that poor mental health can lead to anxiety. And anxiety itself can make mental health even worse. To see this clearly, let’s make an analogy to heart disease.

Heart disease can cause high blood pressure. But it can also go the opposite way. High blood pressure (say in someone who enjoys a salty diet) can lead to heart disease. This person may have a healthy heart to start off with. Their high salt diet though causes their body to retain more fluids which then increases their blood pressure. This increase in blood pressure makes their heart have to pump harder which can lead to the development of heart disease. The same thing can be said regarding anxiety and mental health. Anxiety can lead to poor mental health the same as high blood pressure can cause poor cardiac health. Besides the medical and mental health consequences, anxiety places oral health at risk.

Anxiety and Oral Health

Anxiety impacts our dental health. We discussed how anxiety can lead to diabetes. People with diabetes are at an increased risk for periodontal disease. Gum disease leads to the accumulation of high levels of bacteria in the patient’s bloodstream. This increase in bacteria has been linked to heart disease. You can read about the medical consequences of gum disease here. Medical consequences aside, anxiety also takes a toll on mental health.

Oral health is greatly influenced by how well patients take care of their teeth. The better the patient cares for their teeth and gums, the fewer dental problems they will have. However, patients who suffer from anxiety are not the best when it comes to their oral hygiene. They will not be as diligent when it comes to brushing and flossing. Oral health is also influenced by the foods we eat.

Anxious individuals typically do not have a healthy, and balanced diet. Their dietary choices (e.g. processed foods, fast foods, etc.) lead to a higher level of dental plaque formation. This coupled with poor dental hygiene leads to faster development of dental caries and gum disease. And to top it off, anxious patients do not do well at the dentist. So even though they need the most help from a dental provider, they often postpone, delay and sometimes avoid going to the dentist altogether.

Anxious Dental Patient

An anxious dental patient will avoid going to the dentist as much as possible. Their only motivation for going is their pain. They will not go to the dentist to prevent problems. They only go when they have a problem. and typically these are huge problems by the time they walk into a dentist’s office. This is a typical mouth of an anxious dental patient when they first see the dentist.

Anxious dental patient during their first visit

Dentist for Anxiety and Anxious Patients

The medical profession has been slow to accept and treat mental health. They have only started giving mental health the attention it deserves in the last few decades. And with mental health having such far-reaching consequences in everyone’s life, they are finally recognizing its significance.

Most dentists also are not properly trained in dealing with dental anxiety. What they haven’t understood is that an anxious patient is very different than a patient with average anxiety. Anxious patients typically view the dentist not as their friend, but rather as an enemy. This can be based on a previous negative experience or an unrealistic fear based on what they have heard. Anxiety also heightens the patient’s perception of pain. So any small thing the dentist needs to do causes tremendous discomfort for the patient. And that’s why it’s important to consider these patients as candidates for sedation dentistry.

Dental Anxiety Management

Sedation, or “sleep” dentistry, has made dentistry possible for patients with dental anxiety and phobia. A dental anxiety dentist can not only fix the “dental” disease, but they can also help the patient manage their anxiety. Dr. Sonny Eslampour has treated many highly anxious patients successfully with sedation dentistry. He can do the same for you. Contact us now and start taking control of your anxiety.