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Mental Health at the Dentist

Article by licensed psychologist Dr. Sarah E. Porter

Fun Fact: Dr. Sarah E. Porter is the spouse of Dr. Brian Porter

From time to time, everyone experiences moments of sadness, feeling blue, nervousness, and/or worry. These emotions can be expressed in many different ways, including healthy and unhealthy behaviors. For instance, going to the dentist can stir up a lot of different emotional responses. Some people may experience increased worry or nervousness before/during trips to the dentist or when having to undergo dental work. Other people may feel sad or frustrated when something unexpected happens, like breaking a tooth. Depending upon coping abilities, some people may be able to work through such fears and anxieties in healthy ways, such as engaging in relaxation strategies, talking to a family member/friend, exercising, or creative expression. For many people, bouts of sadness, nervousness, and/or worry, come and go, without causing significant difficulty in daily functioning. However, what happens when the ability to function in daily life is substantially compromised?

Difficulties in functioning, including extensive sadness and/or nervousness, must be treated as an important medical concern and therefore should be promptly addressed by a medical/mental health professional. These trained providers can evaluate for symptom severity, provide a diagnosis (if applicable), and/or provide intervention for the mental health issue(s). It is important to know that only a trained medical or mental health professional can diagnose a mood-related disorder, including Major Depression or Generalized Anxiety. Therefore, although family/friends may sometimes refer to another individual as “depressed” or “anxious,” a diagnosis is necessary for clinical intervention. Thoughts/threats/actions to intentionally harm oneself or another person should always be taken seriously and therefore must be reported immediately to the treating provider. In the event of a mental health crisis, it is always acceptable and encouraged to seek help at the local emergency room or by dialing 911. While stigma continues to exist surrounding mental illness, many people with such diagnoses are able to live satisfying and productive lives. Increased social awareness and clinical research trials help discover new treatment interventions and improve accessibility. If diagnosed with a mental health disorder, it is important to notify your dentist or hygienist of your health history in efforts to make necessary accommodations during dental appointments.

It is IMPORTANT to seek professional help, if you or if someone you love is experiencing one or more of the following:

  • Thoughts/threats/actions of wanting to intentionally harm oneself or another person
  • A change in PRIOR functioning (maladaptive patterns of sleep, appetite, or physical/cognitive functioning)
  • An inability to complete tasks of daily living, including academic and/or job-related tasks, or caretaking responsibilities
  • Withdrawal from family friends and/or lack of engagement in previously enjoyed activities
  • The purpose of this blog posting is to provide general mental health information only, and therefore is NOT intended to replace a mental health evaluation by a trained professional.


About Licensed Psychologist Dr. Sarah E. Porter

Dr. Sarah E. Porter is a Licensed Psychologist and owner of Madison Neuropsychological Services, LLC. Dr. Porter provides clinical neuropsychological assessment for individuals across the lifespan. Neuropsychological assessment is often sought for diagnostic clarification and to inform treatment recommendations for changes in cognitive functioning related to mental health disorders, acquired brain injury, traumatic brain injury, memory loss, and/or neurodevelopmental conditions.

Outside of the office, Dr. Porter enjoys yoga, cooking, exploring nature/the outdoors, and spending time with her family.

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