Q: Doc, my husband really needs to see a dentist but he refuses to go because he had a bad experience as a child. Is there anything you can do for him?

A: Absolutely. It sounds like your husband is suffering from a very common ailment we call “dental anxiety” or “dental phobia.” This ailment can manifest from a variety of different circumstances but is almost always rooted in some type of bad dental experience.

Many middle-aged people and baby boomers first experienced dentistry during its infancy when routine care was non-existent, anesthesia was lacking and treatment was usually emergency based. This set the foundation for dental phobia. These patients didn’t go back to the dentist for regular care and subsequently don’t realize how much things have changed.

The advances that have been made to bring dentistry into the 21st century in recent years are amazing. It’s now possible to take a patient who is completely terrified of the dentist and make them feel totally relaxed.

There are many different ways that this can be accomplished. One of the most common ways is with nitrous oxide gas. This gas is inhaled through a mask during the dental procedure. It takes effect within minutes and has the capability to relieve anxiety. The patient is alert and aware but is relaxed enough that their treatment can be performed easily. Once completed the patient is given oxygen and returns to their original state of consciousness within minutes. There are no after effects and the patient can resume their normal duties.

For some patients this is not adequate enough for treatment. In this case, sedation dentistry can be utilized to calm and relax the patient enough so their treatment can be performed. This procedure uses a series of medications to put patient into a sedated state. It may include oral, injectable and or IV medications depending on the patients health, level of anxiety as well as the amount of treatment that is needed. The patient is placed on a machine that constantly monitors their heart rate, pulse and breathing and kept warm with blankets and pillows. No treatment begins until the patient is in a calm, relaxed and sedated state. Once the treatment is complete, a caregiver takes the patient home and remains with them while they rest for the remainder of the day. This type of procedure is highly specialized requiring advanced coursework, special materials and equipment as well as a separate license by the Florida Board of Dentistry.

It’s not just a “little blue pill” or a “pill” taken the night before and the morning of the appointment. It’s both safe and effective but only when performed in the hands of someone who has been trained and is licensed by the state.