“I feel like I’ve lost control when I’m in the dental chair.”
“I’m scared because I have no idea what’s going on or what to expect.”
“That absolutely terrifying sound of the drill sends shivers down my spine.”
“I have terrible teeth, I’m just so embarrassed.”
“I can’t go to the dentist. If I do, I’ll have a full-fledge panic attack.”
It’s actually way more common that you think to feel this way. Dental anxiety is very common and, if you think about it, totally natural.
I mean, why wouldn’t it be natural to be afraid of someone coming at your face with sharp tools?
But the good news is that there are things you can do to make the experience bearable, even pleasant!
It all starts with finding the right dentist.
Has anyone ever told you to just “suck it up”?
This is a shame tactic that’s used with people who are scared of the dentist, and it just isn’t right.
Being afraid of the dentist isn’t a weakness.
Your dentist should be your partner in helping you be the healthiest you can be, and for a this partnership to work, you have to have your fears and concerns taken seriously.
Things Your Dentist Can Do to Make Visits Less Scary
If you have dental anxiety, make sure you find a dentist who truly understands where you’re coming from and isn’t going to shame you into it saying things like “buck up.”
There are tons of things dentists can do to make appointments less frightening, but it all starts with finding the right dentist who will do this for you.
Seek out a dentist that lets you have complete control in the chair, explains things thoroughly and doesn’t act until you give the word, and lets you feel and act afraid without feeling embarrassed.
Interview a few dentists if necessary and if you feel comfortable talking to him about your apprehension, then you will feel comfortable working with him.
Tip: pediatric dentists tend to be the most patient human beings on the planet (you try convincing a four year old to sit still and open wide)!
Things You Can Do to Make Dentist Visits Less Scary
According to behavioral scientists, dental visits can be less stressful if you do the following:
Avoid caffeine for at least six hours before a dental appointment can make you less anxious.
Eat high-protein foods, such as cheese, one hour before your visit can do a lot to calm dental anxiety (sugary foods can increase agitation and carbohydrates do not have the same calming effect that protein-rich foods do).
Focus on breathing regularly and slowly. Concentrate on pausing for a few seconds between exhaling and inhaling. People who are anxious tend to hold their breath, which decreases their oxygen levels and further increases the feeling of panic.
Agree upon a specific gesture with your dentist, such as a hand signal, so that you can alert her to pause. Some people call this a “stop signal” and it’s great if you’ve ever been afraid of the loss of control many feel in the dental chair.
Hold a therapy dog during your dental visit. Therapy dogs raise our oxytocin levels and help alleviate fears, reduce anxiety and blood pressure, and prime you to handle stress. This is why I use a therapy dog in my dental practice.
Use a blanket during your visit. Pressure on the body from a weighted blanket can relieve anxiety at the dentist. For many years, people have gotten relief from the heavy lead apron used while taking x-rays. In fact, the combined weight of the blanket and dog sitting in your lap could be the perfect solution for your dental anxiety!
Identify with your dentist the specific aspects of dental treatment that concern you the most. If the sound of the dental drill makes you anxious, address this issue with the dentist. Getting specific with the things that bother you and discussing this openly with your dentist can help ease anxiety immensely and give you back some control.
Consider hypnotism or acupuncture. If you live here the San Francisco Bay Area where I practice, we have a nationally recognized dental school that includes hypnotism and acupuncture in its dental curriculum. Before you scoff, consider that these disciplines are powerful enough methods for helping people to control such things as eating disorders and cigarette smoking.Hypnotism and acupuncture can be a practical solution to facilitate stress free dental visits. If this method has worked in the past for you, call your local dental society and locate the appropriate dentist in your area that can provide this type of service.
Ask for nitrous oxide. Millions of apprehensive patients every year receive extensive dental work under the effects of nitrous oxide. These patients admit, that without the availability of nitrous oxide, they would not actively seek dental care. Nitrous oxide is also a safe and proven technique that is inexpensive and readily available. Unfortunately, there are no professional samples to take home with you! 🙂
If it’s been a few years or more since your last visit to the dentist, venture out and make an appointment. Chances are you will be pleasantly surprised!
Mark Burhenne DDSread next: Afraid of the Dentist? You’ll Love This Natural (and Adorable) Solution