Dental anxiety is the leading reason people avoid going to the dentist. The good news is dentists have several tools at their disposal to help make the anxiety of regular dental visits a thing of the past. After all, stress in the dentist's chair isn't just bad for you -- it's tough for the people trying to treat you, too. That's because a tense environment translates into longer procedures and more room for error.
If you suffer from dental anxiety, or if you just dread the thought of your next dental appointment, it's easy to understand why you'd want to know how to improve your experience. From offering pillows and a warm blanket and having you listen to music during your visit to sedation dentistry methods that include oral sedation, H-wave, electronic anesthesia and nitrous oxide, dentists use a variety of techniques to ease dental anxiety. But would you believe that the scent of lavender could also calm your dental anxiety while you wait to see the dentist?
The Lavender Connection
Lavender is an herb which has long been known to act as a calming agent. Lavender is used to treat anxiety, alopecia (hair loss), restlessness, insomnia and depression. Lavender is also used to soothe a headache or an upset stomach.
You've probably seen plenty of lavender-scented items available for purchase on store shelves -- from scented lotions and soaps to candles and sachets. While these products may smell nice, lavender is most often used as a calming agent when it is prepared for use in aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy involves inhaling certain scents to relieve stress and anxiety. Lavender is deemed the most helpful because of its sedative effects. Essential oil is extracted from the fresh flowers of the lavender plant and this oil is then inhaled to produce the desired results. Essential oils are highly concentrated so it doesn't take much to produce a calming effect -- just two to four drops added to a few cups of boiling water does the trick.
A Calmer Trip to the Dentist
When you think of aromatherapy, you probably don't picture a candle warmer in your dentist's office. But a study conducted in 2008 by King's College London researchers explored that very possibility. Half of the 340 people studied were exposed to the scent given off by a candle warmer activating five drops of lavender oil in water while waiting for a dental appointment. The other half were not exposed to the lavender aromatherapy. The results? The anxiety level of those not exposed to lavender was significantly higher than those who smelled the scent. The results applied no matter what type of dental treatment people were awaiting -- whether it was for a routine dental cleaning or a visit involving something more anxiety-provoking such as a tooth filling.
Exposure to lavender had no effect on people's anxiety about future dental appointments. These findings suggest that lavender acts as an effective "on-the-spot" remedy to reduce anxiety while you wait for your dentist appointment, but it might not be enough to ward off the fear of future visits.
Some Safety Precautions
Use of lavender as aromatherapy is generally considered safe for most adults. (Lavender should not be used by pregnant or breast-feeding women.) Although side effects are rare, some people may develop an allergic reaction to lavender. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, headache and chills.
Because of the relaxing effects of lavender, the herb could potentially enhance the effects of central nervous system depressants. To be on the safe side, talk to your dentist about all the medications you take, including any vitamins, herbal supplements or conventional medications.
Your dentist is your best advocate when it comes to reducing dental anxiety. If you don't have one, we can help you find a pre-screened dentist in your area.