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7 Tips for Visiting the Dentist When You Have Fibromyalgia

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I spent my most of my life terrified of the dentist, even though I didn’t get my first cavity until I was in my mid-20s.

About eight years ago, I was looking for a new dentist. The one I had previously seen was rough and dubbed me a “problem patient” because I wanted a second opinion on fillings he said needed replacing but weren’t that old.

A friend recommended a pediatric dentist who also saw adults who were big babies about going to the dentist. I love her, her front office staff and the hygienists. She makes sure to review my health, medications, supplements and treatments before every appointment.

I’m even over my fear of needles in my mouth (She taught me to concentrate on wiggling my toes as she uses the needle. I don’t know why, but I don’t get woozy anymore!)

For me, good dentist is one who understands the complexity of fibromyalgia, the fatigue and pain I feel and is willing to educate themselves about my chronic illness, which my dentist did after my diagnosis.

She realized common problems for fibromyalgia patients are dry mouth, bad breath, tooth decay, gum disease, mouth sores, tooth and gum erosion and sensitivity.

She also understands it will probably take two or three times the normal amount of anesthetic or “freezing,” and I usually need a top up if the appointment runs long. I thought that was just a “me thing,” but apparently it’s a “fibro thing.”

She knows how hard it is to get me back in the chair, so while she would prefer to spread out any work over shorter appointments (like doing one filling one week and the other the next week), I know that no matter what we do, I am going to hurt, so I usually just “suck it up” and try to do it all at once.

So why does going to the dentist set off my fibromyalgia? 

A few reasons: Some fibro flares can get triggered by inflammation, trauma, anxiety and pain, all of which happen when we go to the dentist. Most of us will be anxious, knowing what’s ahead. While getting the work done, you will be poked, prodded, scraped and drilled while having to hold our mouths open, which equals pain. Add the noise and lights, and you’re in the perfect situation for a flare.

Here are several things you can do to try and minimize the trauma and hopefully lessen a flare:

1. If your anxiety is high, talk to your doctor or dentist about getting something to relax you. My doctor has never turned down this request. If your anxiety is very high, you might want to look into sedentary dentists. I got my wisdom teeth out this way and would again if I had a huge amount of work to get done. ​​

2. Get a ride. A flare can hit fast and hard, so having someone else to drive is a nice option. If you took medication to relax or went to a sedentary dentist, you will need a ride.

3. Wear comfortable clothing and have some soft foods at home for the next day or so, depending on how sore you are. Knowing that’s taken care means peace of mind and less stress.

4. Ask for breaks. If they know why, it shouldn’t be a problem. Do some deep breathing or even try meditating.

5. If you know the noise and lights will bother you (I can get migraines), I just out on headphones and listen to music on my phone. Ear plugs can help, too. My dentist offers sunglasses to wear, or you can just bring your own.

6. Ask for something called a “bite blocker.” It’s a wedge that can relax your jaw while it holds your mouth open for you. My dentist always uses them, and they help me tremendously.

7. ​Plan to rest for the remainder of the day, and an ice pack will help an achy jaw.

No matter how much it sucks going to the dentist, it’s worth the extra pain knowing that I’m taking care of my oral health, and my dentist is also looking for “warning signs” of other health diseases and conditions. Regular cleaning can reveal oral cancer, prevent gum disease and it’s all a part of maintaining good physical health.

So if you’ve been putting off the dentist and need a little nudge, I’m to here to give you that nudge. Make that appointment — I am!

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: November 30, 2016
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