I Haven’t Been to the Dentist in Forever. What Should I Do?

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Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

Has it been a while? A lot of people have been writing in saying that they want to go back to the dentist, but they’re afraid, anxious, or ashamed at how long they’ve lapsed.

When you haven’t been to the dentist in awhile, it’s hard to know where to even start. These are my tips.

How to Go Back to the Dentist (If You Haven’t Been in a While)

1. Floss One Tooth

Sounds simple, but it works every time. When I tell my patients this, they laugh, saying, “What difference will that make?” But I say, if it’s so easy, then do it.

When you floss just one tooth every day, after a few days you start to notice the tingly clean feeling in between that one spot. After a few weeks of getting into the routine, you’ll start to say “Ahh, I’ll just floss a few more.”

Flossing all our teeth is overwhelming—flossing one tooth isn’t so scary or difficult. And it’s very hard to make excuses when your only job is to floss one tooth!

2. Make It Convenient

Sometimes it feels like cheating if we make things easier on ourselves, but it’s not cheating—it’s a great strategy for starting new habits! Author Gretchen Rubin says, “a lot of times we get discouraged about our habits because we think, ‘Oh, I tried this and I failed. I keep trying to get myself to go the gym and I don’t succeed. So I have no self-control, I have no willpower. What’s wrong with me?’ Whereas if you set it up in a way that’s right for you, you’re going to have much better success.”

Choose a dentist with a convenient location. Or, better yet, pick a dentist that has a location nearby to something that you associate with a treat or reward, like a favorite restaurant, park, or your best friend’s house—and then book appointments at the same time that you make plans to go to that special place. Going to the place you like will make it easier to get yourself to the dentist at the same time.

3. Find the Right Dentist

I can’t stress this one enough. Take the time to interview a few different dentists. Do your research. Use my guide for how to find an awesome, affordable dentist. Find someone who believes in a shame-free practice and isn’t interested in just filling holes, but is interested in you and your health goals and how your teeth are impacting the health of the rest of your body. A little upfront work is worth it—you’ll actually enjoy coming in and catching up with the staff—another way to trick yourself into going!

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Consider finding a dentist who has a therapy dog. It’s not as rare as you may think. You might even find a dentist who will let you bring your own furry friend to sit on your lap during the appointment (so long as they’re well-behaved!).

The next best option if you can’t find a dentist with a therapy dog: bring my therapy dog Pinterest board with you to your next dental appointment. Just the gaze of a dog’s face—even a photo of one—can produce oxytocin and make you feel more relaxed in the dental chair.

4. Make it a Game

Getting results can be incredibly motivating. For example, if you’re bleeding in one area, see if you can get that area to stop bleeding by focusing your brushing and flossing in just that area. Do this together with your dentist or hygienist. Once you start changing things, noticing results, and taking an active role in changing your health, it can be incredibly fun!

Dr. Mark Burhenne

Learn More: What to Eat—And What to Avoid—to Heal Cavities Naturally