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Using music to manage dental anxiety

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Every time I told someone that I wanted to be a dentist, the most common response I received was, “No offense, but I hate dentists.” But why do people fear the dentist? Dental anxiety is a very common problem that may cause patients to avoid making regular visits to the dentist. Patients with dental anxiety have been shown to have a higher risk of periodontal disease and subsequently, tooth loss from delayed treatment. Common symptoms of dental anxiety include loss of sleep before the appointment, nervousness, crying, nausea, trouble breathing or panic attacks. With this in mind, how can dentists help reduce that anxiety and stress for the sake of their patients’ well-being?
I’m a music lover, so I definitely plan to have music playing in my future dental practice. For me, any genre of music can help reduce my stress levels, yet I often find myself gravitating towards “easy listening” music for this purpose. This observation raises an interesting question: can playing a certain style of music subconsciously ease a patient’s dental anxiety? Studies have shown that music can be used to lower blood pressure, reduce pain, relieve anxiety, and influence mood. This suggests that dentists can use music to their patients’ benefit, rather than simply for enjoyment.
Classical music has been shown in many studies to be one of the most relaxing styles of music. A 2011 systematic review published in the JBI Library of Systematic Reviews examining the effectiveness of of musical intervention on dental anxiety found that patients exposed to soothing piano music prior to treatment reported statistically significant lower intraoperative dental anxiety scores. A 2008 study published in the Medscape Journal of Medicine also found that patients listening to slow movements of Mozart’s piano sonatas exhibited a reduction in systemic stress hormone levels, which was subsequently associated with a reduction in blood pressure and heart rate. While the exact physiological mechanisms of how this occurs still require further investigation, it is suggested that music serves to engage cognitive attention, which can distract patients from pain.
All types of music can be used to help reduce pain and dental anxiety, but classical and soothing, piano music have specifically been found to reduce intraoperative tension, blood pressure and heart rate. So, next time you are treating a patient with dental anxiety, consider giving your patient a few moments to listen to soothing classical music, or even their favorite tunes, to feel more comfortable in the chair. If anything, this small gesture can go a long way in building more harmony in your patient-provider relationship.

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