Plenty of folks get anxious around dental visits. It’s why we offer sedation options to patients who need them – so fear doesn’t have to stand in the way of getting the care they want or need.
But sedation is hardly the only option.
A new study in the journal Depression and Anxiety found that 30 minutes of walking at a moderate pace right before a dental appointment can significantly reduce stress and anxiety before, during, and after the visit. As Dr Bicuspid reported,
“In the present study, [moderate-intensity exercise] not only led to a significantly stronger reduction of dental anxiety during the anxiogenic challenge (dental procedure), but also to a decreased fear prior to the stressful situation,” the authors wrote. “The additional effect of [moderate-intensity exercise] on anticipatory fear in [dental phobia] is an important clinical finding of the current trial because both aspects of the phobic reaction are important barriers to seek treatment.”
This study monitored patients who scored high on the Dental Anxiety Scale and hadn’t seen a dentist for at least three years. Half of them walked for 30 minutes at a low-intensity treadmill pace; half walked at moderate-intensity. After one week, they switched paces.
Pain intensity was measured using a tool called the visual analog scale (VAS). You can see just how much lower the scores were with moderate-intensity exercise:
You might be wondering how the heck you can fit in 30 minutes of moderate cardio right before your appointment (doctor visits are often squeezed into already jam-packed days). But the good news is that even if you can’t exercise right before your appointment, you may still benefit from incorporating exercise into your daily routine.
For we know that exercise can help reduce anxiety in all settings, not just the dentist’s chair. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the impacts of exercise can be long lasting.
Science has also provided some evidence that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. Exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.
And there’s another benefit to exercise: It appears to support good gum health, too. One key study out of Case Western Reserve “found that individuals who exercised, had healthy eating habits and maintained a normal weight were 40 percent less likely to develop periodontitis, a gum infection that can result in loss of teeth.” A contemporary study had even more startling results.
People who never smoked and took regular exercise were about 54% less likely to have periodontitis than people who never smoked but did not engage in physical activity. Rather surprisingly, the prevalence of periodontitis in former smokers was 74% lower for physically active than inactive individuals.
Better oral health and less anxiety plus all the other health benefits of exercise, physical and mental alike? What are you waiting for?
Image by Practical Cures