Fear of Anaesthesia & Dental Phobia

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Anaesthesia is a common practice in both dental and medical treatments, in fact it is so widely used that most hospitals and some dental practices will feature a specialist anaesthesiologist. Despite this however, an underlying cause of dental phobia can be a fear of anaesthesia.

What is anaesthesia?

The word ‘anaesthesia’ refers to the temporarily blocking of your ability to experience pain. As you can imagine, it is an invaluable tool in procedures that would otherwise be very painful. Anaesthesia is generally conducted by means of drugs or chemicals that have been tested and used for years, and hence have an established profile of both effectiveness and safety. There are four main types of anaesthesia, and these are:

  • Local anaesthesia – affects a very specific area with no effect on consciousness, rendering said area numb to pain.
  • Regional anaesthesia – is applied to a larger proportion of the body, but still has no effect on whether you are conscious or not. One such region can be limbs for example.
  • General anaesthesia – is used to render a patient unconscious and unaware throughout the procedure.
  • Dissociative anaesthesia – refers to the use of drugs that cause a ‘dissociative state’, where a patient is in fact conscious during the procedure, but is unable to experience pain and suffers from amnesia (memory loss) after the procedure is completed. This doesn’t carry the risk of general anaesthesia, which can sometimes be dangerous for patients with heart problems, and yet doesn’t leave the patient with memories of a painful or unpleasant procedure.

Anaesthesia in dentistry

Anaesthesia is a vitally important element of many dental procedures and indeed many dental treatments would be virtually impossible without administering anaesthesia. Being anaesthetised allows you to undergo dental surgery and other treatments without the pain and distress you would otherwise undoubtedly experience. As with all surgeries, procedures, treatments or medicines, there are risks – however minor – attached to anaesthesia and it has in the past endured its fair share of horror stories.

Anaesthesia and dental phobia

Fear of anaesthesia is often focused around three things. Firstly it is the fear of unknown; anaesthesia is not something you will often experience and so if you find yourself undergoing it for the first time, you might be worried about the possibility of being allergic (which does happen in rare circumstances), or may simply be anxious about not knowing exactly what to expect from the experience.

Secondly, and this is particularly relevant for anyone suffering from dental phobia, anaesthesia makes a person numb and unable to move or communicate with their dentist. This can not only cause fear, but also exacerbate any existing fear or anxiety. Finally, in the case of a general anaesthetic (where you are left unconscious) there can be a fear of waking up mid-procedure and being in pain.

These fears either stem from actual experiences or from rumour and here say.  Dental procedures, and in particular certain aspects of them like anaesthesia, tend to have a bad reputation in popular culture. If this is taken too seriously, the result is dental phobia. This fear is probably exacerbated by the internet and the host of information you can find on websites, forums, message boards etc, a lot of which can be inaccurate and perpetuate myths that deepen phobias, like the fear of anaesthesia.

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Guide to Dental Phobia