If the thought of going to the dentist makes your teeth chatter, you’re not alone. In fact, dental anxiety is considered one of the main barriers to patients receiving dental care. Learn about six strategies you can practice to ease any anxiousness before your next visit.
1. Talk with your dentist ahead of time.
Let your dentist’s office know that you often experience anxiousness at the dentist prior to your visit. There may be certain things that they can do, such as allot more time for your appointment, allow you to split your appointment up into shorter, more manageable visits or provide you with additional tools to help calm your nerves.
2. Go to the dentist regularly.
Visiting the dentist for routine cleanings is very important. Typically, dentists recommend a cleaning every six months for those with good oral health.
“Your gut instinct may be to avoid the situation that makes you anxious, but avoiding it will only create more anxiety,” shares Jackie Van Zile, a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) with ProMedica Physicians Behavioral Health – Sylvania. “If you only go to the dentist when you’re in pain, you may unintentionally create an association in your brain between the dentist and pain.”
Only going to the dentist when something hurts is also a poor approach. “Fifty percent of the time, if a tooth is hurting, it’s already beyond simple treatment,” shares Terry Norris, DMD, the lead consulting dentist for Paramount Dental. “Waiting until you have a toothache will only result in more money spent and likely increased anxiety due to a more invasive procedure.”
3. Find the right dentist and appointment time.
Dr. Norris recommends that patients who experience dental anxiety schedule their appointments first thing in the morning. Doing this will allow you to complete your visit first thing and not allow for anxiousness to build throughout the day. Avoiding drinking any caffeine before your visit is also a good idea.
Take the time to find a dentist you trust and develop a good relationship with your dentist. “Our job as dentists is to diagnose and make treatment recommendations, not to make decisions,” shares William Moorhead, DMD, an expert in dentistry and dental sedation. “Find a dentist that makes you feel comfortable and puts you in control of your dental health.”
Consider your dentist as part of your team. They want the best for you and your oral health!
4. Determine a non-verbal form of communication.
Before the hygienist or dentist begins their work, determine a non-verbal form of communication that you can use to ask them to stop. Since talking may be difficult, a determined non-verbal cue, such as raising your hand, is a great way to tell your dentist that you need a break. “The dentist or hygienist may be the one holding the tools, but you, as the patient, are in control,” Dr. Moorhead shares.
5. Evaluate medicinal options.
Your dentist may be able to offer a variety of medicinal options to help calm your anxiety. Common pharmaceuticals used for dental anxiety range from drugs such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and valium, to deeper sedation administered by a dentist with advanced training or a nurse anesthetist.
Additional pharmaceuticals and techniques may vary by the dental office. In addition to moderate sedation, Dr. Moorhead utilizes a unique technique with his patients that experience dental anxiety called NuCalm. NuCalm involves a pair of noise-canceling headphones that play a slightly different frequency in each ear to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help calm your mind. Ask your dentist what options might be available to you.
6. Address your triggers.
“Dental anxiety often stems from a negative experience at the dentist,” Van Zile explains. “And society’s portrayal of dentistry doesn’t help either (think Finding Nemo and dental chairs in horror movies). Visiting the dentist also puts you in a very vulnerable position. Someone is invading your space and you’re not able to see what they’re doing or communicate with them while they’re doing it.”
To help yourself feel more in control, Van Zile recommends you utilize the following techniques:
- Ask questions. Before your dentist does anything, ask them to first tell you what they are going to do and then show you what that might look like and the tools that they will use to do it.
- Utilize distractions. Helpful distractions may include bringing headphones to listen to music during your treatment, or essential oils to smell when you begin to feel nervous.
- Practice mindfulness before and during your visit. It’s really hard to feel anxious in a relaxed body. If you begin to feel yourself tensing up, stop, relax and practice a relaxation (or grounding) technique.
“Also don’t be afraid to give yourself some encouragement throughout the visit,” Van Zile shares. “Tell yourself that you’re doing a great job staying relaxed, and that you’re onto the next step and even closer to being done. Then after the visit is over, take time to praise yourself for accomplishing the visit.”
Dr. Norris adds that a good dentist will also offer praise as the cleaning or procedure goes along. “I always make a point to let the patient know when the hardest part of the procedure is over,” Norris shares. “Praise and reassurance go a long way in helping an anxious patient manage their fears.”
Visiting the dentist can create unwanted anxiety for the best of us. Taking time to practice these techniques and acknowledging that your dental health will be better off with routine dental visits can help.