woman holding charcoal toothbrush

Photo courtesy of Schmidt’s

I’ll just say it: no one really likes going to the dentist. We all do it because it’s good for our overall health and wellbeing. But it’s not as if someone passes up going to a dance party or playing with puppies to go to the dentist instead. 

For some people, a dentist appointment is routine. For others, it’s a situation that can quickly inspire feelings of apprehension, helplessness, and outright fear. An astounding 80% of Americans experience some level of dental anxiety, according to Bita Saleh, DDS, a general dentist and author who wrote The Well-Referred Dentist (a book geared toward dentists who want to help their patients lessen their fear and anxiety) and started the accompanying program The Fearless Way.

Sometimes, it may have nothing to do with a patient having had a negative experience at the dentist’s office,” Dr. Saleh says. It may have to do with a negative experience at a physician’s office, or a previous drowning experience, or even an experience of physical abuse. When a patient has a negative experience, there will be negative emotions associated with that experience, and so naturally, they will form a belief that is protective for them at the time so that they won’t be hurt again.” 

A myriad of situations can lead to dental anxiety, compounded by the fact that an appointment involves allowing someone into your personal space. 

Dental treatment is a very personal experience,” Dr. Saleh says. 

If you experience anxiety before and during a dental appointment, know that you’re not alone and there are things you can do to calm yourself. Dr. Saleh shares her top tips for alleviating dental fear and achieving more tranquil feelings. 

Before the Appointment

In the days or even weeks before your appointment, those jitters might start to become very real. In addition to practicing self-care, distracting yourself with fun activities, or going to an extra therapy session or two, you can do some things to soothe yourself in the hours leading up to your appointment. 

Dr. Saleh says, The most important thing is for the patient to get at least eight hours of sleep the night before a dental appointment and schedule the appointment during the morning hours when there’s less chance of being stressed prior to arriving to the dental office.” 

She notes that it’s key to eat a good, filling meal that includes protein and complex carbs that will keep you full during and after the appointment. Dr. Saleh notes, Depending on the type of anesthetic used, generally the numbing effect will last one to four hours after treatment completion, and so it is recommended that numb patients refrain from chewing anything in order to prevent causing damage to their teeth, tongue, or cheeks.”

Dr. Saleh advises staying away from caffeine the day of your appointment to avoid needing to use the restroom often and generally adding to the feeling of being on high alert.”

Also, don’t shy away from speaking with your dentist about your fears. 

One of the best things a patient can do is to discuss their fears and anxieties before the treatment appointment with their dentist,” Dr. Saleh says. Treat your dentist as an ally and as someone who cares about your comfort.”

You can request taking a few breaks during your appointment. Dr. Saleh says, Some patients need frequent breaks, and knowing this is important because the dentist’s office can schedule appropriately so that they are not stressed because they are running late for their next patient.”

During the Appointment

OK, you’re here. Now that it’s the big day, you might still feel nerve-wracked. Whether it’s for a cleaning or something more involved, it’s perfectly alright to feel nervous. Luckily, there are ways to keep yourself in the driver’s seat even though you have butterflies. 

First of all, you can ask your dentist to let you know what’s happening as it’s going on. It provides patients with a sense of control,” Dr. Saleh says. 

She adds that some patients bring headphones so they can play music during the appointment in order to tune out the noise of the drill, something that she says can be a trigger and induce anxiety for some.” 

Another comforting item is a blanket. Dr. Saleh explains, Some patients feel better with a blanket covering them because they get cold while lying down during the appointment.” 

Lastly, don’t be afraid to speak up. 

It is calming for the patient to know that they have a choice to verbalize their needs,” Dr. Saleh says. 

After the Appointment

You did it! Dr. Saleh recommends scheduling downtime after your appointment, which is the perfect opportunity to ramp up your self-care, do something nourishing for yourself, and reflect on what you just accomplished.

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional