‘The No. 1 thing you can do’: This Alaska clinic eases dental anxiety and improves lives

SPONSORED: Treating dental anxiety has profound effects that ripple far beyond a simple dentist visit, says the team at Alaska Premier Dental Group.

Presented by Alaska Premier Dental Group

Years ago, Wasilla resident Mitzi Barber was sitting at her kitchen table when out of nowhere, one of her teeth broke.

Barber was shocked. Her tooth had never caused any pain before. But now an untreated cavity had rotted, and she was facing a dental emergency.

“I sat and bawled,” Barber said. “I was so scared, because I had not been to the dentist in about four years.”

Barber is one of the millions who suffer from dental anxiety, which can have consequences that ripple far beyond dental health. Her husband scheduled an appointment with Alaska Premier Dental Group, and Barber was told she needed a dental implant. They had an opening that same day with dentist Dr. Joe.

“I was so, so nervous,” said Barber.

But Dr. Joe and the team at Alaska Premier Dental Group treated her dental emergency with patience, care and understanding. Overtime, the clinic has helped Barber overcome fears that contributed to her dental anxiety in the first place.

“Their goal is that you feel comfortable and safe,” she said.

Barber treats her dental health differently these days.

“Now I’m a pretty big stickler,” she said. “You need to go every six months. It’s so important.”

Breaking the ‘vicious cycle’

Dr. Joe has worked in dentistry for decades, traveling to communities across Southwest Alaska and performing urgent dental care in emergency rooms before he joined the team at Alaska Premier Dental Group.

During his years traveling he realized that his credentials as a doctor were less important to people than his willingness to share in their lives, break bread and visit in their homes.

“It was like a light switch,” Dr. Joe said. From that point on, authentic relationships with patients became his priority. During visits today, Dr. Joe’s first conversation is about a patient’s level of anxiety and how the team can help. In time, he builds rapport.

“The No. 1 thing that you can do for a patient who is anxious is have them trust you,” said Dr. Joe. “If you can’t address that, the rest is going to fail.”

Around 36% of people experience dental anxiety, research shows, and roughly 12% of people suffer from extreme dental fear. Meanwhile, most people believe that oral health affects their quality of life.

Every day the team sees patients experiencing some amount of dental anxiety, said Dr. Clark, partner at Alaska Premier Dental Group. Some experience white coat syndrome, a well-known phenomenon where blood pressure rises during doctor visits. Others experience so much fear they avoid checkups for years.

“It’s a vicious cycle because any dental issues that you have grow and are magnified. Then by the time the issue is serious enough to see a dentist, it’s usually a big issue. Bigger issues are more involved and more costly, and intimidating,” said Dr. Clark.

That’s why Alaska Premier Dental Group strives to alleviate patient fears, he said. Patients are offered free nitrous gas and can listen to their own music on headphones.

“We’re creating an environment that is relaxed and centered around that person,” said Dr. Clark.

With offices in Wasilla and Anchorage, patients who commute can fit visits in with their lives and know they’ll have a good experience in both locations.

“We’re going to meet you where you’re at without judgment. And then we’re going to work with you to help accomplish the goals that you have for your dental health,” said Dr. Clark.

Dental anxiety has plagued Janelle Mullen since childhood. She has vivid memories of painful visits where her discomfort was ignored, and her needs discounted.

“I started having anxiety with the sound of the drill,” Mullen said. She began visiting Alaska Premier Dental Group as a teenager, and over the years has learned how to manage her anxiety.

Mullen now sees Dr. Clark for her dental needs.

“Dr. Clark is the kind of person that makes you feel a bit more at home,” Mullen said. “They want to make sure people are comfortable with everything that they do, which means a lot to someone, especially when they have anxiety.”

“But it also made me feel really comfortable taking my kids there,” Mullen said. “None of them really have any dental anxiety. It’s fantastic.”

The benefits of dental health: More than clean teeth

Delaying dental visits can have ripple effects beyond tooth health; a person’s overall health and wellbeing can be impacted.

Research has shown that people with poor oral health have higher rates of cardiovascular problems, including stroke and heart attack, than those with good oral health.

“The mouth is the pathway to the entire body,” said Dr. Clark. “Right now, there’s a massive awakening of how oral health affects heart health. You’re not just taking care of your mouth; you’re taking care of your entire body when you’re coming in for routine cleanings.”

Gum disease can also affect basic functions of eating, chewing and supplying your body with the fuel it needs. Regular dental visits can detect early-stage oral cancer, too.

Another way people can benefit from dental care is through cosmetic dentistry, including veneers, braces, natural-colored fillings and crowns. “Everything that we’re doing has an emphasis on cosmetics and aesthetics,” he said.

These procedures can have an immediate impact on a person’s confidence, said Dr. Clark.

“This treatment can be some of the most rewarding treatment because you’re creating such

a dramatic and almost instantaneous change,” said Dr. Clark.

Some people shed a few tears. Oftentimes, the person has wanted a change for years and they are witnessing a new smile for the first time.

“We’ve had people change careers, change their whole mental attitude and perspective on life,” said Dr. Joe.

For Barber, whose tooth broke, the team helped identify an issue that had caused her anxiety in the first place: She metabolizes anesthesia more quickly than many people, so she requires more to go numb. Procedures that were painful should not have been, if she had the right care.

“When I was younger, I was afraid to speak up, you know what I mean? So, I just kind of sat through it,” said Barber.

Thanks to Alaska Premier Dental Group, she doesn’t have to worry anymore.

“They care about my comfort. It matters,” she said.

Alaska Premier Dental Group provides exceptional cosmetic dentistry, dental implants, family dentistry and so much more to their patients from their offices in Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska.

This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with Alaska Premier Dental Group. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.