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Dental button gives fearful patients control

December 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
One of the most feared aspects of going to the dentist's office is dealing with the drill. But now there's a new tool that's taking the fear out of visiting the dentist and putting patients in control. No one likes seeing them, hearing them, or even anticipating the dentist may be using one. Needles and drills are the main reasons 25 percent of people don't see dentists at all.

When Kimberly Scarano was a child, she had a dentist who made her feel a lot of discomfort. So now she's always anxious when she gets in the chair.

"It makes me nervous, the drill, but it's something I have to undergo," said Scarano.

Dr. Christopher Go says most of the patients in his practice feel just like Scarano, so he invested in a device that puts his patients in the power seat: a panic button.

"The patient is actually in control," said Go. "I thought that was an interesting way to approach dentistry from the other end."

The device is hooked up to the dental drill, as soon as you push the button, it cuts off the hydraulics and the procedure is immediately halted.

"I was pretty skeptical when I first heard about it," said Go.

At first, he worried a panic button would make his job a lot more tedious and painstaking, but instead the device is cutting the time patients spend in the chair.

"I'm not constantly stopping the hand piece to ask them if they want to get up, to ask them if they're tired, to ask them if they're doing OK. So actually we can get through the procedure, in fact, we save probably 30 percent off of the time it takes to do a procedure," said Go.

Because patients can determine just how much drilling they can handle, Go says he often uses less anesthesia.

Scarano rarely presses the button, but just having it in her hand gives her peace of mind.

"Just knowing that it's there, and that if I can't communicate to him to stop, it's just right there and it just stops it right away," said Scarano. "It's really made a big difference for me."

Dr. Roger Fieldman, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Dental Society, says he can't see the harm in the dental button, but believes most dentists can tell right away when a patient is uncomfortable. However, if a panic button will help people who are so fearful they don't ever visit the dentist then it might do some good.


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