You see it in movies or while viewing your favorite sitcom; a scene at the doctor's office where the character inevitably gets a little woozy which leads to a fainting spell.
It may seem funny when watching it all unfold on television, but according to a study in the May/June 2008 issue of General Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry's (AGD) clinical, peer-reviewed journal, this type of reaction, in real life settings, these breath-holding scenarios are the most common emergency situation in the dental office.
This condition is known as vasovagal syncope and lead author of the study, Rubia Kapusta, DDS, MS, explains that both dentists and patients should be aware of the signs and be prepared in case it occurs. Vasovagal syncope is characterized by a loss of consciousness and muscle tone, which typically are preceded by non-specific symptoms that last anywhere from a few seconds to a minute. These symptoms result from alterations in the nervous system that can include dizziness, lightheadedness, paleness, palpitations, nausea, sweating, hyperventilation and changes in vision.
According to Dr. Kapusta, "Any patient who experiences a syncope reaction may have an underlying cause that can predispose him or her to a life-threatening situation."
It is considered the most common clinical problem that occurs among patients of all ages, affecting 3.5 percent of the general population. Emotional stress, anxiety, pain, fatigue and being in a hot and crowded environment can lead to vasovagal syncope.
"It is not uncommon for patients to experience some anxiety when visiting their general dentist," says AGD spokesperson, Melvin Pierson, DDS. "Yet, there are ways to lessen the possibility of an anxiety-related incident." Dr. Pierson encourages patients to discuss with their general dentist any fears they may have, and when seeing a dentist for the first time, schedule a preliminary visit.
"Asking questions and requesting informational materials can help you get a better understanding of your dental service or treatment," says Dr. Pierson. "General dentists are trained to answer questions and tell you what to expect to help you feel comfortable."
If the signs and symptoms of vasovagal syncope do occur, the dental procedure will be immediately stopped and treatment provided as soon as possible.