Taking the fear out of trip to the dentist

The death of a woman who ignored an infected tooth for three weeks – because she was too afraid to go to the dentist, has highlighted just how afraid some people are to visit their dentist.

According to a General Dental Association report, as many as 25 per cent of people are frightened of going to the dentist.

The fear is often caused by a bad experience during childhood when dental techniques were not as advanced as they were today

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But people who fail to visit the dentist regularly and ignore problems with their teeth could be putting their lives at risk. Amanda Latigo, 23, died of multiple organ failure caused by the molar turning septic in February. She was taken to hospital, but suffered cardiac arrest on the way, an inquest into her death last week was told. The coroner recorded a verdict of death from natural causes.

But Ms Latigo was far from alone in having a paralysing fear of the dentist.

Linda McGregor, 69, from Wakefield had refused to visit the dentist for 25 years because she was too scared.

“I last went to the dentist in 1989. All I can think is that it goes back to some bad experience when I was quite young,” explains Mrs McGregor. “Back then the dentists was much more brutal than it is now. I hated the injections and the gas they used to give you. I always hated going to the dentist but it got worse and worse until I just couldn’t go.

“Just thinking about going would make me feel sick to my stomach and make my heart race – something similar to a panic attack I imagine.”

Mrs McGregor’s daughter, Anne Walker, tried for seven years to get her mother to visit the dentist because she knew how important it was for her to keep her mouth healthy.

In the end she persuaded her mother to visit her dentist, Khalid Hassan who offered a technique called conscious sedation after undergoing special training and mentoring in the technique which costs £120.

The aim of sedation dentistry is used to provide a relaxing and anxiety-free experience for patients during dental procedures. It enables those too afraid to go to the dentist to receive the dental care they need, while avoiding the common apprehension known as dental phobia.

The sedatives are placed into the back of the hand and administered in to the blood system throughout treatment. IV sedation does not actually induce sleep; instead, the person remains conscious and can follow instructions from the dentist. However, the feeling of relaxation will be intense enough for them not to remember much about what happened under treatment.

Although Mrs McGregor agreed to visit Dr Hassan at Pollards Optical Dental clinic in Wakefield it took her 18 months before she would agree to treatment.

“Fear of the dentist is quite common,” explains Dr Hassan, who uses conscious sedation once a week on his patients. “But it is quite unusual for someone to wait 25 years and also quite dangerous. Once an infection has set in it can be quite hard to treat even with antibiotics. ”

“I was a bit scared at first but once I had the sedative I just felt totally relaxed,” says Mrs McGregor. “All my anxiety disappeared and I felt no pain whatsoever.”

Before carrying out conscious sedation, with a qualified dental nurse in attendance, Dr Hassan takes a full medical history.

From fear to dental phobia

A survey by the British Dental Association found that 25 per cent of people were afraid of visiting the dentist. As with any type of anxiety, there are varying degrees of fear. The most common, and least severe, is simply a fear of the unknown. This may arise if you’ve heard horror stories from other people or you’re worried about what could happen. The next level of fear is dental fear, which is a reaction to a known danger. For example, you may have had a tooth removed and experienced some pain. As a result, you may worry about experiencing it again. Dental phobia is similar to dental fear but is more severe. It’s often the result of a bad past experience.