I have never met anyone who likes going to the dentist. It is not something that is generally thought of as “easy” or “fun.” It’s a necessity of life. Some people have been known to go to great lengths to avoid a trip, but everyone will go to the dentist at some point.
I didn’t grow up afraid of the dentist. In fact, I wouldn’t phrase it quite like that even now. I love my dentist. He’s a family friend, we go to church together, he’s kept my teeth healthy all my life. I didn’t have to have a single cavity filled at all until I was in college. I’m not afraid of him. But my body acts terrified whenever he or a hygienist comes near my mouth. I grew into my fear.
I’m fortunate in my dentist. He knows my health problems and how I got them (he’s always treated my mom whose phobia of the dentist rivals mine!). He listens to me. That it so wonderful, but not everyone has that luxury. I’d like to give you some ideas on how I get through my dentist appointments and hope you can start your own self-care practices regarding “dentist anxiety.”
1. If you have prescribed medication, use it. If you have anti-anxiety medication prescribed to you, like Ativan, Xanax, or Klonopin, and you know you will be anxious at your appointment, take one 30 minutes to an hour before the start of your appointment. Because this is a medical appointment, I am always sure to tell the doctor if I’ve taken my meds or not.
2. Headphones are a must. Make sure your phone or player is fully charged and your headphones are on! I use my wireless ‘phones so they are sure to not get in the way of what’s going on in and around my mouth.
3. Music. Prepare a playlist that is full of relaxing music. If you have frequent anxiety you may already have a go-to list. Use it! If music doesn’t relax you or isn’t your thing you may consider downloading a calming podcast. Many dentists’ offices have TVs set up for watching and the option to listen to the show that’s on. I choose not to because it can be more distracting than it is calming.
4. Discuss nitrous. I have a conversation with the dentist or hygienist before sitting down about nitrous for all my procedures. This includes getting my teeth cleaned. (Fair warning: This usually costs extra and may not be covered by dental insurance. Discuss this possibility with the office and they will help you make an informed decision. I always pay extra for the nitrous.)
5. Talk to your dentist. I tell my dentist every time I go in what to look for when I start to freak out. For me, it’s my feet. My feet carry all my anxiety while I am focused on keeping my head still. I ask the hygienist to glance at my feet every once and a while to see that I’m OK. I just left the dentist, and in the middle of a filling I said “Ow” and he exclaimed that he knew it hurt more because he saw my feet jump around! Maybe it takes them seeing it a couple times to remember (plus, unfortunately for me, I’m not his one and only client), so I do tell them this every time.
These five tips keep me fairly anxiety-free at the dentist. While they are definitely good tips if you have extreme anxiety about the dentist, like me, using some of these, like listening to music, may be beneficial even if you have very mild anxiety about the dentist.
Editor’s note: This is based off an individual’s experience. Please talk to a doctor or dentist before starting or stopping medication.
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