When a patient is nervous, it often shows. Even if they don’t say anything about it, the dentist or hygienist can see it in their body language, their posture, how they may grip the edges or armrests of the dental chair just a bit.

noseAnd according to a new study in Chemical Senses, dentist may actually be able to smell the anxiety, as well.

Two dozen dental students were asked to donate a couple of shirts for the research: one they wore during a stressful exam and another they wore during a lecture. Scientists then used a chemical to mask their smells so you couldn’t tell the difference between them. Still, each shirt kept its original chemical signature.

The shirts were then placed on mannequins for a second group of 24 dental students to work on.

When exposed to masked anxiety body odors the test subject’s dental performance was significantly worse than when they were exposed to masked rest body odors and masker alone, indicating that their performance was modulated by exposure to the emotional tone of the odor.

That “emotional tone” is conveyed by what are known as “chemosignals.” Research has suggested that scent can not only convey emotions or other mental states; it can affect our actions, too – in this case, the performance of student dentists.

But the takeaway here isn’t to avoid the dentist, especially if you have problems such as tooth pain or gums that bleed when you brush or floss. Dental problems generally don’t get better on their own. They get worse. They become more time-consuming, intensive, and expensive to address. Naturally, these can ratchet up anxiety even more.

Rather, if you’re at all nervous about having any dental procedure done, let your dentist or hygienist know about it up front.

Here in our Arlington office, we do everything we can to create a warm, welcome, and soothing environment so each patient’s visit can be as relaxing and stress-free as possible. We also have options such as nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”), the drug-free Brain Tap system, and even IV sedation to further help you relax.

Just talk with us. Let us know your concerns and how we can help make your visits positive experiences. Good, open, honest communication is the foundation for great patient-doctor relationships of all kinds.

For more on sedation dentistry – and non-narcotic options for addressing dental fear or anxiety – see our previous post.

Image by Project IDEA

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