Andrew Barclay's fear of going to the dentist began when he was a little kid, and just making an appointment used to give him nightmares.
"I would wake up in the middle of the night, and I'd be worried," Barclay said. "I'd be afraid they'd find a big cavity or something terrible like that, and so all my life that was they way I regarded dentistry."
And Barclay isn't alone. More than 20 percent of Americans say they don't visit the dentist because they're afraid of the pain, according to the American Dental Association's more recent survey that touched on dental anxiety. Barclay says he hated the pain from the injection used to deliver anesthetic.
"The actual dentistry we provide doesn't really hurt," said Dr. Eby, an Okemos-based dentist. "Most people are anxious about the needle, and that's where the anxiety lies, not with the actual procedure."
So to eliminate the pain from the needle, Dr. Eby began using a device called the DentalVibe. The hand-held tool looks like an electric toothbrush, and it uses vibrations to block pain signals from reaching the brain.
"The sensation of the vibrations travels to the brain faster than the pain from the anesthetic," said Dr. Eby.
Dr. Eby says the DentalVibe was patented by a doctor in Florida, and it took about seven years for a team of engineers to design it. The tool was approved for market use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about two years ago, and an updated version was released this year. Dr. Eby says more and more dentists will start employing the DentalVibe during dental procedures now that many dental schools across the country are using it.
Dr. Eby is one of the only dentists in the area to use the DentalVibe. He says it gives patients something positive to take away from their experience.
"In our practice, it's been really successful for helping people get over the anxiety of the needle."
Barclay says it's even helped him get over his life-long fear of the dentist.
"Dentistry has become totally painless," Barclay said. "That to me is really what changed my attitude about dentistry."
For patients whose dentists haven't adopted this technology yet, there are other ways to ease fears. It's important to find a dentist you feel comfortable with, and to do something that puts you at ease before the appointment or in the waiting room, like reading your favorite book or listening to soothing music.
If you don't face your fears and let dental problems get worse, then you might need more extensive or invasive dental procedures that are only going to increase anxiety. That's why doctors recommend getting your teeth cleaned on a regular basis.