Is gentle dental care possible? Yes, it is, but it’s important to distinguish between gentle dental care and dental care that involves absolutely no discomfort whatsoever. Now, we’re not making excuses for the dental profession here, we just have to acknowledge some of the realities of the how we all experience sensations, particularly from around the mouth and face. We all know that the mouth is a particularly sensitive part of the body. It stands to reason, therefore, that even the gentlest dental treatment may involve some minor discomfort. The good news is, though, there are ways to minimise discomfort during dental treatment. We must bear in mind that comfortable dental care is not a one-way street; it’s something that happens in partnership between you and your Dentist.
So why is the mouth so sensitive? Given the mouth and face makeup, quite a small region of our bodies, a disproportionately large section of the brain is dedicated to receiving sensations from the mouth and face, which can make gentle dental care a challenge. A favoured explanation for this phenomenon centres around the importance of the mouth and face to our evolutionary survival, given how important the mouth is in nutrition, breathing and communication.
– A detailed sensation is vital to effective chewing (mastication) and swallowing (deglutition) because without knowing where the lips, cheeks, tongue, teeth and food relate to each other (proprioception and pressure sensation), the complex and synchronised processes involved in chewing and swallowing wouldn’t be possible. The capacity for the mouth to feel pain was also of benefit because any excessively hot, cold or sharp substances could be detected in the mouth before they entered the rest of the gastrointestinal system.
– Our evolutionary ancestors also relied on their taste sensation to help differentiate between foods that were beneficial from foods that were harmful. Obviously, in modern times, taste is not a reliable indicator of nutritional value, but things were very different for our ancestors.
– We all know how important the mouth is in breathing, and how important breathing is to our survival. Our capacity to keep our airways clear of obstructions (and then to detect and remove any obstructions if they occur) relies heavily on detailed and accurate sensory information from the mouth and face.
– Finally, our capacity to communicate with each other was of major benefit in our evolutionary struggle as a species. Without good sensory information about the position and movements of our mouth and face, however, the complex ways in which we communicate with each other (both verbal communication and facial expressions) would not have been possible. Just think of the last time you experienced a dental local anaesthetic and how difficult it felt to smile and speak, even though your face was moving perfectly well. We rely on sensory feedback from our face to let us know how to make our next facial movement.
So enhanced sensitivity of our mouth and face did us a big favour in improving our capacity to survive and flourish as a species. It also makes modern life extra fun (just think of your favourite red wine or a kiss from someone special). But there is a tradeoff: it makes gentle dental care a bit of a challenge. We need to remember that sensation is both physical (what our nerves and brain detect) and emotional (how our feelings cause us to interpret a sensation). Our sensitivity to discomfort can be increased in certain situations. The good news, though, is that sensitivity to pain can also be decreased by some good teamwork between you and your gentle Dentist.
The perception of pain and discomfort from the mouth (and any other part of the body) can be increased by several factors, the most common of which are all forms of stress:
– Anxiety – we all know that when we’re stressed we become less resilient to life’s challenges, and more likely to interpret any small discomfort we might experience as being much more significant than it would be at times when we are less stressed.
– Fatigue – like anxiety, fatigue is a form of stress that does us no favours when it comes to coping with discomfort.
– Inflammation and pre-existing pain – the presence of pre-existing discomfort can cause changes in our nerves which make the nerves more sensitive to any additional uncomfortable stimuli.
The great news is that the perception of pain and discomfort can also be decreased as part of your gentle dental care. Bear in mind, however, that many of these methods rely on partnership between you and your Dentist:
– Reduced anxiety can be achieved by your Dentist giving clear explanations of procedures and what kinds of sensations to expect. It also helps when you are willing to communicate openly with your Dentist, and you’ll find that kind of communication easier as you grow more familiar with your Dentist, the Practice and our staff. So you might find that communication will become easier in later appointments.
– Modern local anaesthesia is a godsend to gentle dental care because it allows the reduction (or elimination) of painful stimuli to an area of the mouth. The most comfortable local anaesthetics are usually administered very slowly by your Dentist (after using topical numbing gels), which makes the anaesthetic procedure itself as painless as possible.
– Finally, various types of sedation exist to help to make your gentle dental procedure even more comfortable. Most sedation techniques primarily operate by reducing anxiety and awareness through using special medications. Dental On Clarke has ready access to nitrous oxide (happy gas), intravenous (twilight) sedation by prior arrangement, and offsite general anaesthetic (sleep dentistry) by prior arrangement. Sedation techniques can be very useful in bridging the gap between gentle dental care and optimally comfortable dental care, and should be discussed with your Dentist if you’d like to know more.
So, is gentle dental care possible? Absolutely. Just bear in mind, however, that gentleness is only one part of the story. But don’t worry; we have plenty of options available to fill in the blank spaces, and make your dental story a happy one.