Sitting in that dentist chair can fill anyone with a sense of inexplicable dread. The ominous tools, the harsh lights, the sterile smells—it’s enough to make your stomach drop even before the scraping and drilling begins. As someone plagued by dental anxiety for years, believe me, I understand the waves of unease. But with time and new perspectives, I’ve discovered ways to ditch the dentist dread for good.
We all have our Achilles heels when it comes to medical procedures. For me, nothing triggered my fight-or-flight response quite like awaiting my favorite hygienist Cheryl for that first pick scrape on my plaque-laden teeth. No matter how gently she cooed “Just relax!” while poised above me with her metal Hook of Horror, my whole body tensed up like a coil.
What is it about the dentist office that sends shivers down our spines? We certainly don’t dread our trusted hair stylist Angie jabbing around our ears with sharp scissors. And the thought of our mail carrier pamphleting our Choppers with coupons is nothing short of absurd. Yet we cringe at the very notion of a dentist brandishing far less menacing tools to excavate minuscule bits of leftover lunch from our teeth.
Clearly this predicament required some self-reflection. Was I being irrational? At my last cleaning, Cheryl reminded me of the importance of flossing while attacking my gum line with ruthless abandon. Blood trickling down my lip, I vowed once again to be more diligent with my Oscar the Grouch floss picks going forward. But despite my best efforts, I couldn’t shake the ingrained hesitations I harbored.
Through thoughtful analysis of my deeply-rooted dental fears, I’ve found a few techniques to ease—and even prevent—the waves of dread. Here are some simple tips I’ve uncovered to take control over your anxieties for a calmer dental experience:
Find The Right Fit
The most vital strategy that’s helped transform my outlook is finding the right dentist for my needs. Do your research to discover providers experienced not just with dazzling veneers but specifically in easing patient worries. Ask candid questions about their approach beforehand. An empathetic dentist like mine, Dr. Patel, will thoughtfully walk you through what to expect during appointments to release the tension of the unknown.
Entertain yourself while you’re trapped—I mean reclined— in that tilting chair. Pop in wireless headphones and get lost in a favorite podcast or soothing music to distract from the grindings next door. Or catch up on a novel guaranteed to immerse you in another world (just don’t get too enthralled you miss the rinse and spit prompt).
Set A Routine
As an infamous floss dodger, I frequently found myself scrambling to make last minute appointments once my gums screamed for mercy. But setting regular cleanings every 6 months—and actually showing up—has worked wonders to reduce my anxiety spikes. Knowing what’s coming and when gives you a chance to mentally prepare rather than walking in off the street in a state of dread.
Find Your Happy Place
If all else fails, go to your happy place. As Cheryl reaches for her metal enemy of choice, close your eyes and visualize yourself somewhere calm and peaceful. A lounging beach vacation, perhaps, or cuddled on the couch binge watching The Office with your favorite furry companion nearby. Take slow, steady breaths and transport your mind outside the office, even for just a moment. Before you know it, Cheryl will be bidding you adieu with a coveted new toothbrush.
Conquering dental dread may not happen overnight. But with a few helpful perspectives, like better understanding the root of your fears, you’ll inch closer to ditching the dentist panic for good. And though you may never eagerly await those twice-yearly plaque excavations, a few simple tricks can help transform trepidation to tolerance. Because nothing should come between you and your radiant, healthy smile.