How dentist can treat post-traumatic stress disorder

How a Dentist Can Treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Imagine feeling anxious and panicky whenever you see a dental office or consider visiting the dentist. This fear is all too real for some people who have experienced a traumatic dental event, such as a painful extraction or a problematic procedure. But what if there was a way for dentists to not only treat their patients’ dental problems but also help them overcome their post-traumatic stress disorder related to dentistry? In this article, we will explore important information about PTSD and the different techniques and approaches dentists can use to help their patients cope with dental-related PTSD and receive the care they need to maintain good oral health.

What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is not new and is found in ancient Egyptian writings. Events that can lead to this disorder include sexual abuse, war exposure, mental abuse, and even dental trauma. Any incident that results in feeling out of control, powerless, or betrayed can lead to Post-traumatic stress disorder, and the key is in the perception of the victim. The National Center for PTSD reviews that 7.8% of Americans will be affected in their lifetime, and women are twice as likely as men to develop the disorder. According to the research of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, females experience Post-traumatic stress disorder for a longer duration than males.

PTSD is not just a psychological stress disorder; it is also a complex neurological, biological, biochemical, and psychological disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health says feeling afraid when a person is in danger is natural. Fear triggers many bodily changes to avoid or defend against the threat. With patients dealing with Post-traumatic stress disorder, this reaction can be initiated without an actual danger present, even in a dental office chair.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

The Centers for Disease Control states that the symptoms or signs of PTSD fall into four broad types:

  • Re-living or intrusion, avoidance, and changes in arousal or reactivity. Symptoms of re-living include flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts, such as repeated involuntary memories, intense emotional and physical reactions on reminders of the event, emotional responses that can comprise feeling guilty, extreme fear of harm, and emotions of numbing. Physical reactions include chills or heart palpitations, headaches, and uncontrollable shaking.
  • Symptoms of avoidance include keeping away from activities, thoughts, places, or feelings related to the trauma or feeling disconnected or estranged from others.
  • Symptoms of increased arousal include being overly alert or easily startled, difficulty sleeping, reckless or self-destructive behavior, irritability or outbursts of anger, and lack of concentration.
  • Other symptoms linked with Post-traumatic stress disorder include panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts and feelings, drug abuse, feelings of being estranged and isolated, and not being able to complete daily tasks.

Impact of PTSD on Patient

Studies show that people with PTSD have average to low levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone, and elevated levels of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) despite ongoing stress. CRF triggers norepinephrine release, leading to an increased sympathetic nervous system response. It increases heart rate, blood pressure, awareness and startle response. Post-traumatic stress disorder is also associated with changes in the functioning and anatomy of your brain.

How Can Dentists Treat PTSD?

Here are the following ways that a dentist can adopt to treat patients depending on the type of PTSD:

Dentist Start Treatment with Diagnosis

A dentist or provider makes the diagnosis after asking about your symptoms, medical history, mental health history, and the situation or condition of the severity of exposure to trauma. Dentists use the diagnostic criteria for Post-traumatic stress disorder of the American Psychological Association’s Diagnosis, commonly known as DSM-5. The latest version is the DSM-5-TR, and “TR” stands for “text revision” and learning about symptoms you have after an event. Your dentist may also conduct a physical exam and order specific blood tests to see if any physical conditions could be causing some of your symptoms.

Screening for PTSD

The first step in treating PTSD in dental patients is to identify those who may be at risk. Dentists can use a brief screening tool such as the Primary Care Post-traumatic stress disorder Screen (PC-PTSD) to assess patients for PTSD symptoms. This tool can help dentists identify patients needing further evaluation or referral to a mental health professional.

Establish Trust

One of the most important ways to help patients with Post-traumatic stress disorder is to establish a trusting relationship with them, and it requires a thoughtful and empathetic approach from dentists. For this purpose,

  • Dentists should create an open, non-judgmental environment, encouraging patients to share their concerns and fears.
  • By acknowledging their past trauma and offering empathy, dentists can build trust with their patients.
  • Effective communication is crucial when treating patients with PTSD. Dentists must explain what they do during the procedure and provide reassurance throughout the appointment.
  • Involve the patient in decision-making and allow the patient to have some control over the procedure. It may include allowing them to choose music or a movie they want to watch, giving them the option of taking breaks during the process, and allowing them to select a date for dental treatment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of talk therapy that is often used to treat Post-traumatic stress disorder. CBT can help patients recognize and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs contributing to their symptoms. Dentists can work with mental health professionals to provide CBT or refer patients to a qualified therapist.


In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help handle PTSD symptoms. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may be supportive to some patients. Dentists should work closely with the patient’s mental health provider to ensure medication’s safe and effective use.

Strategies to Ease Anxiety

  • Provide “distraction strategies” such as music, TV, and other visual aids to help patients focus on something other than dental procedures.
  • The child/patient is brought to ease using the “modeling” technique, in which the dentist shows videos of other children who have undergone dental treatment.
  • Apply the “tell-show-do” technique developed by Addelston in which the patient is shown the instrument you will use, told all the functions of the instrument before putting it into the mouth of the patient, and then starts using the same tool.
  • There are various calming techniques that dentists can use to help patients with PTSD relax. For example, dentists can use guided imagery, extreme breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation to support the patient calm down during the procedure.
  • Sedation can help patients with PTSD relax during dental procedures. Nitrous oxide (laughing gas), oral sedatives, and intravenous (IV) sedation can support and reduce anxiety levels, making it easier for the patient to cooperate during the procedure.

How MedsDental Helps You with PTSD

Are you a dentist looking to expand your practice and provide top-quality care to patients who have Post-traumatic stress disorder? Look no further than MedsDental Dental Billing Company, which specializes in billing services for dental practices that offer treatments for PTSD and other dental procedures. Our team of billing experts understands the complexities of insurance and can ensure that you receive timely and accurate reimbursements for your services. By partnering with MedsDental, you can focus on providing the best probable care to your patients while we take care of the administrative tasks. Let us support you in making a difference in the lives of those with Post-traumatic stress disorder. Contact MedsDental today and take your dental practice’s revenue cycle management to new heights of success.

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