Does the mere thought of going to the dentist make you sweat? You’re not alone. Three to 16% of adults experience some level of dental anxiety ranging from mild stress to extreme phobia. including dental phobia. Often, their fears keep them from even going to the dentist, which only results in more dental issues. Unfortunately, these self-inflicted problems intensify their anxiety and cause serious problems like cavities and tooth decay.
Therefore, it’s crucial that you learn to manage dental anxiety so you can receive routine treatment. Here are a few things you can do to make your next visit less stressful.
1. Share Your Fears
Anyone who’s ever experienced fear — be it rational or irrational — knows that sharing your feelings with someone else can make you feel better. Similarly, sharing your thoughts, fears, and anxieties with your dentist or dental hygienist can help you overcome your fear or at least minimize them. Plus, communicating your thoughts will allow your dentist to adapt their treatment to suit your needs. They want you to have a great experience, too, you know.
2. Ask Questions
Whether or not you feel comfortable sharing your concerns, it’s wise to ask a few questions before your dentist begins the examination. What tools will they use to clean your teeth? What will treatment look and feel like? Having answers to these important questions before they begin will help you mentally prepare for the appointment and build a foundation of trust so you feel more comfortable returning to the same dentist in the future.
3. Use Hand Signals
Sometimes, the most terrifying part of going to the dentist is not being able to speak when tools and hands are in your mouth. How can you communicate that you’re in pain or uncomfortable when all you can move is your tongue? Agreeing to use hand signals with your dental professional is one solution to this nerve-wracking dilemma. When you begin to feel anxious, use your predetermined signals to pause the procedure or tell the dentist to ease off.
4. Request Anesthesia
If you feel especially anxious the day of your appointment, ask the dentist if they can administer anesthesia and put you under for a bit. You might also request IV sedation, which will take the edge off without completely knocking you out. Often, they’ll be more than willing to oblige if you have a ride home. Therefore, it may be best to call ahead or plan to bring a friend along in case they agree to give you medication.
5. Just Breathe
Sometimes, the most effective way to manage your dental anxiety is to use age-old mindfulness techniques like deep breathing exercises. Practice lengthening your inhales and exhales to avoid holding your breath as you sit in the examination chair. You can also conduct a body scan, which requires you to focus on each part of your body — from your head to your toes — to relax every muscle. These calming exercises should help you manage anxiety until your appointment is over.
6. Bring Headphones
Do loud drilling noises and baby screams put you on edge at the office? Bring a pair of headphones and cue up your favorite tunes. Once the dentist finishes asking you questions, pop your buds in, kick back and relax. Whether you want screamo to drown out the ultrasonic scaler or prefer calming instrumentals, music may just be your saving grace. Just remember to tell your hygienist that you’d like to wear earbuds or they might think you’re ignoring their small talk.
7. Avoid Caffeine
Drinking coffee or consuming an energy drink before your dentist appointment isn’t the best idea, especially if you’re prone to dental anxiety. Caffeine can precipitate or mimic anxiety symptoms, which can cause more stress. Therefore, it’s best to skip your morning coffee the day of your examination, even if you don’t have a history of getting the shakes or feeling high-strung after a cup of joe. Besides, you can enjoy your daily dose of caffeine after your appointment if you must.
8. Bring a Friend
If you simply can’t bear showing up to the dentist’s office alone, bring a friend or family member along. Of course, you may have to call ahead to see if COVID-19 restrictions disallow non-patients from entering. However, if the office is alright with someone tagging along, they can provide support by keeping you company in the waiting room. Their stories and jokes will also distract you from your procedure for a while.
Taking Care of Yourself
While going to the dentist can be stressful, it’s an integral part of your physical health. Therefore, it’s important to schedule a routine cleaning every six months and show up for each appointment. If you practice the above techniques and take care of your teeth the other 363 days of the year, you won’t have to schedule any major procedures or make more appointments than you have to. And that’s great news for both your physical and mental health.