I have a Fear Of Dental Pain – " I can't get numb"

We chat to our new patients in some detail about the origin of their fears. Among our team we meet regularly to share our ideas and learning too. It was one such meeting with John Booth the other partner at my dental practice in Edinburgh  that led to this posting

Many patients at  have told us  that they felt that their fears and even any pain that they were experiencing were being dismissed by their dentist in the past.

The subtext of the conversation being something like “ I have given you 2 injections and yet you are still saying it is sore, you must be numb, please stop acting up and let me get on with your treatment”

Now very often these are NOT the actual words that have been spoken to a patient but it is the message that they have perceived from their dentist or dental team indirectly. Any exchange like this can leave you feeling as though you are being judged as lacking in moral fibre or are making a fuss about nothing. What’s more it may even encourage you to be quiet and try to tough it out………….. this is the wrong thing to do.

It strikes me when I meet someone with dental fear who reports this sort of  history that quite possibly the reverse is true of what my dental colleagues in the past have perceived or inadvertently conveyed. It is not a lack of moral fibre or the desire to make a fuss that leads to someone experiencing pain. There can actually be very good reasons why someone is difficult to get numb and rather than expressing frustration, it is our job to work out what that reason is and so something about it.

For example. some people may simply be far less sensitive to the usual local anaesthetic that we use, and so is much more likely to feel pain when dental work is being carried out. Others take much longer for the anaesthetic to take effect or simply need a different anaesthetic to the one we normally use. There are always solutions to these problems.

Persistently painful visits will destroy your dental confidence so it is critical that your dental team work to finding a strategy that allows you to enjoy pain free dentistry.If every dental visit results in pain then, it is little wonder that you become increasingly (and understandably) anxious before each visit and ultimately want to avoid the dentist until a problem occurs. This is human nature in action, we all avoid stuff we don’t like.

If you suffer from dental fear, I genuinely believe that the single most important thing that a dentist can do is help you develop a great prevention routine. With this in place the volume and frequency of dental treatment that you need will reduce in the long term.

If problems do occur we have to make each individual patient feel as comfortable as possible. Generally I find that once we work out how to make dentistry pain free, then the “recipe” can be applied at all future visits.

Good local anaesthetics, careful techniques and lots of open two way communication all help to make treatment visits as  comfortable as possible. Comfortable and dare I say relaxed visits are the best way to help overcome dental anxiety and fear in the long term.

There are still situations where it can be difficult to get someone as numb as they need to be, but in my view modern dentistry should be pain free. If for whatever reason your treatment cannot be made painless on a given day then there are very few situations that I can think of where pressing on regardless is a good idea.

Dentists as a profession need to overcome our biggest hurdle: preconceptions about our patients and what they experience during visits to see us. When we can do this, listen, observe and generally be attuned to what our patients are experiencing then I think we begin to have a chance at understanding how big a deal dental fear is for many of our ”anxious” patients.

-As a final add on to tonights  posting I hope you will forgive a shameless plug for our
Beat Your Dental Fear Open Night on 27th April
Details are in my last blog posting
The event is entirely free and we would love to meet you in person. register here to attend

Have a great week