Essential oils have been around for a very long time, but recently over the last few years using essential oils have been becoming more popular to help naturally treat the body. There are many types of oils you can buy and from many different companies. One of the most important things about buying essential oils is making sure that they are pure oils with no fillers. Like anything else, fillers or additives take away from the products themselves, are less effective, and have a bigger risk of potentially doing more harm than good. It is important to record usage to ensure safety to yourself and the people you’re exposing essential oils to. There are many ways to use essential oils effectively and efficiently, but if used carelessly or inappropriately, they can cause negative effects.
Aromatherapy is not identical to environmental fragrances used in commercial air fresheners, potpourri, or scented candles, which can potentially expose both patient and employees to toxic phthalates and other harmful chemicals.4 “Aromatherapy involves scientific use of pure essential oils to produce pharmacodynamics effects.4”
Multiple studies show certain essential oils can decrease anxiety, pain, pulse rate, and cortisol levels in patients who visit the dentist. There are many different ways to expose a patient to essential oils and at different levels of exposure.
Top 5 ways to use essential oils:
- Diffuse into the air
- Spray bottle with water and oil mixed
- Place essential oil on a cotton roll and inhale
- Place essential oil directly on the skin
- On a warm washcloth
When deciding which way you want to use the essential oil is up to you and the office you work in. If you decide to use a diffuser, then the whole office is being exposed. If you spray the essential oil, you can contain it to that room. By placing essential oil on a cotton roll, you can contain the oil to just the patient who is consenting to try it. The same goes for using the oil directly on the skin, or with a warm, wet washcloth. There have been studies showing Lavender oil not only reduces anxiety, but can also alter the emotional state of mind, and reduce pain upon needle insertion.4
Orange oils have been proven to reduce salivary cortisol and pulse rate in children with anxiety in the dental chair.2 Another research study done focusing on essential oil use on patients was, “While waiting for dental procedures patients were either stimulated with the ambient odor of orange or ambient odor of lavender. These conditions were compared to a music condition and a control condition (no odor, no music). Anxiety, mood, alertness, and calmness were assessed while patients waited for dental treatment. Statistical analyses revealed that compared to control condition both ambient odors of orange and lavender reduced anxiety and improved mood in patients waiting for dental treatment. These findings support the previous opinion that odors are capable of altering emotional states and may indicate that the use of odors is helpful in reducing anxiety in dental patients.3” Many essential oil manufacturers state other oils reduce anxiety. However, I haven’t been able to find research to support these claims, so they are not listed.
Additional ways to use essential oils in the dental office are by recommending mouthwash or toothpaste made with essential oils. This is particularly popular for my holistic-based patients I treat. For the toothpaste, making an at-home recipe includes baking soda, coconut oil, and essential oil of choice (lavender, orange, or mint). As we know, baking soda is great for neutralizing pH of saliva and therefore decreasing bacterial activity in the oral cavity. Essential oil rinses are found to be equally effective in inhibiting plaque. A study carried out by Pizzo et al. on the plaque inhibitory effect of amine fluoride/stannous fluoride compared with essential oils showed no significant difference in efficacy of both. As chlorhexidine causes staining of teeth with long-term use, essential oils can be used as an alternative to chlorhexidine rinse.1
Essential oils, when used correctly, show scientific evidence to improve anxiety in the dental chair.
Negative Effects of Essential Oils on Patients
With anything, there are always patients who don’t react in the same way as others. In fact, patients have been known to become more anxious and even hostile when exposed to the same essential oils (lavender and orange). Other negative effects are skin reactions. These are the most common types of adverse reaction to essential oils5:
- Irritation (irritant contact dermatitis)
- Allergic contact dermatitis (delayed hypersensitivity)
- Contact urticaria (immediate hypersensitivity)
Being conscious of patients’ reactions towards essential oils is important. Dental practices I’ve seen who use essential oils have a sign at the front desk stating, “Essential oil X is in use, please let us know if you are experiencing any issues or want us to stop using them during your visit.” This gives the patient the feeling they are in control of their visit, and it’s important for patients to feel safe. We definitely don’t want to create any more anxiety or irritation.
When using essential oils, you should always try on a small patch of skin before using in multiple places, and make sure to dilute the essential oil with coconut oil, if directed, to avoid overexposing your body. It is important to listen to your body as well; if you feel off (dizzy, light-headed, experience a headache, etc.), you should stop using the oil or ask the office to turn off the diffuser. The providers should then note this in their chart to avoid a negative effect next time the patient visits the office.
I believe essential oils have a right place, right time, have potentially positive effects, and can do amazing things for the body. However, they aren’t for everyone. If there’s a possibility essential oils can help decrease anxiety for dental patients and help make treatment more bearable than that’s great too.
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- Dagli N, Dagli R. Possible use of essential oils in dentistry. J Int Oral Health 2014;6(3):i-ii.
- Jafarzadeh M, Arman S, Fatemeh “Effect of aromatherapy with orange essential oil on salivary cortisol and pulse rate in children during dental treatment.” NCBI, 6 Mar. 2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3732892/?report
- Lehrner J, Marwinski G, Lehr S, Johren P, Deecke L. Ambient odors of orange and lavender reduce anxiety and improve mood in a dental office. Physiol Behav. 2005;86(1-2):92–95. [PubMed]
- Russo, Jacqueline. “Diffusing Dental Anxiety with Aromatherapy.” AAOSH, 13 Mar. 2017, aaosh.org/diffusing-dental-anxiety-aromatherapy/.
- Safety. http://tisserandinstitute.org/safety/irritation-allergic-reactions/