Dental phobia delays the right dental treatment, which can lead to serious problems. Let’s discuss dental phobia in seniors below in this article.
Older adults above 65 years old are at high risk of having dental problems, be it tooth decay, oral cancer, root decay, or tooth loss.
However, dental issues that arise after 65 years are not the direct result of aging but many years of wear and tear (or even eating candy frequently!). Sometimes certain medications also cause dental-related problems.
Some seniors avoid going to the dentist irrespective of dental-related problems because of anxiety and fear. When dental anxiety becomes severe, the older adult finds numerous excuses to avoid going to the dentist, which leads to dental phobia.
People with a dental phobia go to the dentist only when the pain becomes unbearable. Sometimes the dental phobia is so severe that it may even require consultation from a psychiatrist. Once the phobia is manageable, the person can go to the dentist for treatment.
This article discusses all the possible signs and causes of dental phobia in seniors. So, continue reading this article for more information.
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What Are The Challenges Which Seniors May Face Regarding Dental Care?
#1. Reduced Dexterity
Many older adults feel stiffness and pain in their hands, which prevents them from brushing or efficiently flossing their teeth. As a result, they suffer from various dental-related issues.
#2. Tooth Loss
Tooth loss is quite common in older adults. According to the CDC, one in five older adults above 65 years old loses their teeth. Tooth loss can affect nutrition in adults because missing teeth may prevent them from eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
An older adult with diabetes is always at higher risk of experiencing dental problems like tooth inflammation and gum diseases. Excess glucose or sugar in saliva promotes the growth of bacteria inside the mouth. Gum diseases can also affect the blood sugar level of a diabetes patient.
Older adults are at high risk of having oral cancer, particularly those individuals who chew tobacco or smoke cigarettes.
#5. Gum Disease
According to the CDC, two in three senior adults experience gum diseases that can lead to tooth decay, bleeding gums, and creating problems in chewing. Unfortunately, many aged people cannot diagnose gum diseases early because they don’t show any symptoms until the disease advances.
What Are The Signs Of Dental Phobia?
- An adult person feels physically ill when thinking about going to the dentist.
- A senior may have a sleepless night before going for a dental exam.
- An adult feels nervous while waiting outside for a dental check-up.
- An older adult may feel uneasiness at the thought of objects placed inside the mouth during dental treatment.
- A senior may have difficulty breathing while waiting outside on a chair for a dental check-up.
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What Are The Causes Of Dental Phobia?
There are numerous reasons for a senior person to have dental phobia. Some of the common causes are described below.
#1. Fear Of Pain
The fear of pain is one of the most common reasons for dental phobia. Adults fear going to the dentist either because they have experienced painful dental experiences before or heard about the dental pain stories from other people. This is despite the fact that most dental procedures today are painless or cause very little pain to the patient.
#2.Fear Of Injection
Many older adults fear injecting needles into their mouths while doing dental treatment. Apart from this fear, other people fear that the anesthesia given to them might be ineffective, or the dentist may give them too mild anesthesia to reduce the pain during the dental procedure.
#3.Fear Of Side Effects Of Anaesthesia
Older adults fear the side effects of anesthesia like dizziness, nausea, vomiting, lip numbness, and various others. So, they avoid going to the dentist.
#4. Feeling Of Helplessness
Older adults may feel helpless while sitting on the dental chair with their mouths wide open. They are unable to see what’s going on inside their mouth.
#5. Feeling Of Embarrassment
Many senior people don’t like the physical closeness of the dentist during the treatment, while others are self-conscious about the appearance of their teeth in front of the dentist or any possible mouth odors.
Older adults who have frequent breathing problems fear having their mouths numb while treating their oral health. So, they avoid going to the dentist.
#7. Smell Of Dental Office
Some older adults don’t like the smell at the dental office. So they avoid going to the dental clinic.
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How Can An Older Adult Reduce Dental Fear And Anxiety?
Older adults can reduce dental fear and anxiety in many ways. I am discussing below a few ways which will help.
#1. Communicate Openly
Older adults need to communicate their fears openly with the dentist. You need to discuss the dental fear within you with your dentist thoroughly.
Try to ask any question related to your dental health and about its treatment. Your dentist should try his best to reduce all the worries and fears within you related to dental treatment. If he doesn’t take your concerns seriously, then look at other options.
#2. Make Plans
You can take a portable music player or a DVD system and headphones during your appointment so that by listening to music you will distract your mind. Music can help you feel relaxed. Sometimes dentists offer these devices to reduce your fear during the treatment.
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#3. Express Yourself
You should ask the dentist about what is happening inside the mouth, which will mentally prepare you for what will come next.
You can also establish a hand signal, i.e., by raising your hand to stop the dentist when you feel uncomfortable or want a break.
The laughing gas called nitrous oxide can help older adults to feel relaxed and awake during dental treatment.
#5. Anxiety Relieving Medicines
Sometimes dentists give medicines to older adults so that they will feel relaxed during dental treatment. But never try to take medication without consulting your regular doctor.
Apart from this, your family member or friend should accompany you while going to and from the dental visit because you cannot drive your car safely after taking sedative medicines. Learn how to reduce anxiety for senior here.
#5. General Anaesthesia
General anesthesia is a good option for older adults with dental phobia. However, it does not help reduce fear related to dental problems because you will fall asleep during the treatment.
So, you cannot know what is happening inside the mouth. Apart from this, some dental treatments require several visits to the dentist, which means the treatment options are restricted if you wish to have dental treatment with general anesthesia.
The general anesthesia treatment is always carried in the hospital, and it requires the presence of a dentist and anesthetist. The older adult will be fully asleep during the dental treatment procedure.
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There are some side effects of dental treatment through general anesthesia, i.e., you may feel nausea, headache, or vomiting after the treatment. Apart from that, you cannot drive your car home after taking general anesthesia.
You need to visit the dentist before and after the dental treatment. The anesthesia specialist will assess you before giving general anesthesia. Do your wisdom tooth have just removed? these are must haves.
#6. Conscious Sedation
This involves giving medicine by a drip placed inside the hand or arm of an older adult. You may fall into a light sleep during this procedure, but you can respond to verbal prompts.
There are also some side effects of this procedure, like being drowsy or nauseous after the dental treatment. So, it’s better not to drive alone to your home after this procedure.
Remember that all the dentists don’t offer you treatment by giving sedatives. Also, some chronic illnesses in older adults may prohibit giving sedatives during dental treatment. So you need to discuss your dental fear or any chronic illness you have before the treatment.
Meditation and breathing exercises may help an older adult to reduce dental fear.
Dental health varies from one individual to another. Some people’s teeth may last for many years without having to visit the dental clinic, while others are prone to gum disease or root decay, irrespective of how frequently they brush their teeth. Sometimes chronic illness may be the cause for frequent dental visits.
In such cases, an adult person is likely to go through dental phobia or fear going to the dentist. So the senior person avoids every possible way to go to the dental clinic. Delaying treatment will not only worsen oral health but also affect an older person physically.
If you are going through dental phobia, you can pick any of the methods described above to reduce your dental fear.
I hope this article has given you all the necessary information that you need to help fight dental phobia. Please share your experience about what methods you are opting to reduce dental fear. Also, feel free to leave more questions in the comments section, and we will try to answer them as quickly as possible.