If you blanch at the thought of getting a shot at the dentist, you’re not alone: as many as 20 million Americans are afraid of needles. In fact, this fear can be so severe that even the sight of needles causes some to hyperventilate, panic, or even pass out. It’s also not uncommon for people to lose sleep over fear of getting a shot at the dentist, or to forgo going to the dentist altogether. Although everyone has their own reasons for this fear, it often has to do with fear of the pain of the shot or fear of feeling out of control of the situation. These fears often start with a single bad experience, usually during childhood, though sometimes there is no one situation that causes a full-blown phobia to develop. The good news is that there are a lot of ways to help overcome your fears and a lot of advances in the way shots are administered that will make you a whole loss let anxious now and in the future. Let’s take a look at how you can stop worrying and learn to love the Novocain shot.
The good news is you don’t have to live your life terrified of shots, and there are two important factors that contribute to this. One is that there have been countless studies and advancements in the way shots are administered, and the other is that there are many techniques you can use to help keep you calm before, during, and after the shot is given.
Over the years, the diameter and bevel of the needle have been studied to see which sizes and shapes tend to cause more or less pain. Studies have found that needles that are slightly larger in diameter can often be less painful then very thin needles because they are sturdier and cause less pressure on the sensitive gum tissue as the shot is being administered. In addition, the size and shape of the bevel, or the angled area at the tip of the needle, can also play a role in how much or how little pain you feel. Sharper needles have been found to put less pressure on and face less resistance from the gums, which means a more painless shot for you.
You should also take heart that there are lots of new technologies that could one day make needles a thing of the past. One relatively new invention, called The Wand, is popping up in more and more dental offices. Although The Wand does use a needle to administer Novocain, it does so in a virtually painless and subtle way. For one, it doesn’t look like a traditional needle, which will already reduce anxiety in many. Instead, a pen-like device connected to a computer houses a tiny, self-retracting needle that can calculate the precise speed needed to painlessly administer an injection, which is another leading cause of discomfort. Surprised? Although many patients want to get their injections over with as fast as possible, a shot that’s given too quickly will actual hurt more than a shot that is given slowly. Although The Wand doesn’t eliminate needles completely, it makes the process as painless as possible and reduces the anxiety that can come at the mere sight of a needle: certainly a great step in the right direction!
Research and development are continuing to be done to eliminate needles entirely. Lasers are increasingly being used instead of drills to perform some dental procedures, and in some instances, these lasers can eliminate the need for Novocain injections. Currently, there are new dental lasers that numb the surrounding tissue and nerves as they work. In addition, there is also work being done with electric pulses used in conjunction with a numbing gel to create the same effect as a novocaine shot, without the needle. Although research is still ongoing, studies are finding that the electric pulses can cause the numbing gel to be more effective and have the same effects as an injected anesthetic.
Microneedles are also a consideration. These are small strips of tiny needles that are painlessly applied to the skin and as they dissolve into the tissue, they take with them the vaccine or substance that is being administered to the patient. Although microneedles are primarily being used to study the administration of vaccines, it’s possible this technology could be used to administer numbing agents in the future.
If you still find yourself getting a little clammy before a Novocain shot, there are a few things you can do to calm yourself down and get through it. One is to keep in mind that although it might feel like it’s taking forever, the procedure actually lasts only a few quick seconds. Try closing your eyes and slowly count through the shot. This will help keep your mind at least partially occupied in something else as the injection is occurring and can help you see that it really doesn’t take an eternity.
Another important technique is simply breathing. Close your eyes before the shot, or even as the dentist or hygienist is setting up his or her tools. This will keep you from seeing the equipment and becoming afraid just by seeing the needle itself. Focus on your breathing and be sure to take deep, slow breaths. Continue to breathe through the shot rather than holding your breath, which can cause more stress on your body. Remember to breathe deeply and slowly after the shot as well, and try rubbing the cheek or the outside of your mouth where the shot was administered if it feels slightly sore, as this gentle motion can help make any discomfort dissipate.
Finally, make sure you communicate with your dentist or hygienist about your fears. Remember, we’ve seen it all — you’re not the first person who has been afraid of needles, and you won’t be the last! If we know about your fears, we can be sure to pay particular attention to your needs and try and make the experience as smooth and easy as possible. If it’s helpful for us to continue chatting with you during the shot to help take your mind off of it, let us know! If you’d rather us not tell you when it’s coming, or let you know about every step along the way, we can do that, too. We’re here to help you, but we can’t do that unless we know what’s on your mind. So, don’t be afraid to open up and we’ll be happy to help however we can.
Fear of needles is very real for many people, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. However, it’s important that this fear doesn’t prevent you from going to the dentist, as regular checkups are what ensure that you’ll have to endure fewer injections and invasive procedures in the future. To help you conquer your phobia, keep in mind the relaxation and anxiety-reducing tips above, and take comfort in the fact that research is constantly being done to make injections more painless and even make needles a thing of the past. That’s something we can all smile about!