LET’S be honest. No-one really likes visiting the dentist.
It’s uncomfortable, sometimes painful and quite often, you know you’ve neglected your teeth.
But for some people, this reluctance is more of a deep-rooted fear of dentists and even a phobia.
Bolton dentist Dr Michael Cahill has seen many patients arrive for an appointment in tears because they are so frightened.
Dr Cahill wanted to help these patients overcome their fears and introduced “happy air” as a treatment option.
“Happy air”, or inhalation sedation, is a way of relaxing patients using gas and air.
Unlike gas and air given to women in labour, dentists can adjust the levels of oxygen and nitrous oxide in happy air according the needs of each patient.
Dr Cahill, of Cahill Dental Care Centre Ltd in Higher Bridge Street, said: “Happy air is a way of relaxing patients to allow them to have treatment that they find difficult or even impossible to endure.
“We have offered various types of relaxing therapies over the years, but we find this to be one of the most effective for patients.
“It was actually quite unfashionable for a while, but we have found it really helps patients.
“The biggest advantage is that it is much less invasive than other treatments.
“There are no injections in your hand and you are not left feeling really spaced out afterwards. With happy air, the patient is in complete control.
“Most patients are anxious to a certain extent and we have to accept that.
“Nobody likes to be poked and prodded in their mouth and that’s one of the problems many people have with dentistry.
“It’s very intimate and people find that unnerving. But I have seen people who are really phobic and have stayed away from the dentist for 15 years as a result.
“They can be tearful and very embarrassed about it. With some people it goes back to a bad experience during childhood.
“Yet it isn’t always learned. Some people just hate the thought of it and struggle to even lie back in the chair.”
When patients are given happy air they wear a small nosepiece as the dentist carries out the treatment.
The patient should then start to relax and feel a “pleasant sensation”.
Jayne Buchanan suffered with anxiety before every appointment, but says inhalation sedation helped her cope.
Ms Buchanan, aged 44, from Edgworth, said: “I wasn’t worried because I had had a bad experience — I had just never liked it since I was a child.
“It was that sense of being out of control that I hated. The happy air definitely helped me relax.”
Cahill patient Dawn Newall, aged 39, said: “I’m petrified of the dentist and always have been. Everything about it scares me. I never miss an appointment, but when I arrive my palms start sweating. The hardest bit is getting in the chair. I just want to jump back up.
“But last time I went it was better. I needed a tooth out and they talked me through it all before they started and then gave me the happy air.
“I felt much more relaxed and felt like I could have fallen asleep.
“It was breeze and before I knew it, it was all over.”
Dr Cahill says treatments like inhalation sedation are particularly important in a town like Bolton where oral health is particularly poor.
Dr Cahill, who worked as an NHS dentist for 20 years, added: “We feel it’s important to help people overcome their fears because it means they will keep coming to their regular appointments.
“I had someone come to me in his 40s and his teeth had started to wobble. It turned out he had very advanced gum disease and I had to tell him he was going to lose all of his 28 teeth. It’s terrible when you have to give someone such bad news and you just wish they had come to see you sooner.
“It’s a huge psychological thing for someone to lose all their teeth and it is also a huge financial expense.
“My advice is quite obvious but it can help prevent gum disease — one of the biggest problems — and oral cancers.
“You should always brush twice a day, use fluoride toothpaste, avoid sugary snacks and visit your dentist every six months.”