You are not alone! I (Mags) have major dental phobia, and very troubled teeth. I have spent countless hours at dental offices, my whole body shaking and my heart pounding. (I won’t even go into how much money I have spent. To give you an idea, I regularly ask my dentist if I can borrow his Mercedes; after all, I paid for it!). Over the years, I have developed some coping strategies, some of which I learned from fellow Anxiety Sisters:
1) Be prepared with a Spin Kit. If you have read our blogs about Spin Kits, you will know they contain items that soothe our senses during an anxiety (spinning) episode. For dental visits, a Spin Kit might include some tunes to listen to on your phone (or The Spin Cycle, our podcast), some aromatherapy such as lavender oil or lotion, something soothing to hold in your hands like a soft piece of fabric, and a small blanket to help with the shakes (and the temperature–why is it always so cold in dental offices?) I actually would recommend a weighted blanket because they really help ground us when we are having that feeling of disorientation that sometimes happens with anxiety.
2) Speak to your dentist about taking pre-appointment medication. Some people have found that a tranquilizing medication like Ativan, Valium, or Xanax really helps. Your dentist may give you a prescription for a few pills which you take right before the appointment. If you take other medications or supplements, be sure to alert your dentist.
3) Find an empathetic dentist. Call and ask the receptionist how the dentist is with very anxious patients. If possible, get a referral from another Anxiety Sister who goes to an understanding dentist. And if a dentist is not gentle and supportive, you do not have to stay for the appointment!
4) Talk to your dentist about how she/he can accommodate you. For example, many people find the candy-cane shaped saliva suction very uncomfortable. If your dentist absolutely needs to use it, she/he may allow you to hold it. Likewise, if you find sitting for a long time is making your anxiety worse, ask your dentist if you can take frequent breaks. Some dentists will dim the lights in the room and put on soothing music. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need– it will help you feel more in control of the situation. Remember, your dentist works for you.
5) Get to know the staff. Dental assistants can make the experience so much better if they know you have anxiety. They will check in with you frequently to make sure you are okay and will even hold your hand during painful or scary moments.
6) Research the new technologies. New technology is coming out all of the time which makes dental procedures less painful. For example, my dentist doesn’t have to take impressions anymore (anybody else gag on that awful goo?). The last time I was fitted for a crown, he used a camera-like device that was able to capture the topography of my teeth in a photo. Dentistry is constantly advancing, so do a little googling before you go for a visit.
Special note for survivors of abuse:
If you survived abuse of any kind (but particularly sexual) you may find yourself re-traumatized at dental appointments. Lying down in a chair, having foreign objects put into your mouth, having people move around behind you, the feel of dental dams and other objects that make you gag, pain–are all triggering. Likewise, many abuse survivors cannot tell the dentist when they are feeling pain or extreme anxiety because they are accustomed to hiding it. If you are able, you may want to hold up a small sign when you need a break. Let the dentist know that, if you are breathing heavily, it might mean you are in discomfort and he/she should stop and check in with you.
In addition to the list above, here are a few other tips that may be helpful:
1) Think about whether you will feel more comfortable with a female dentist.
2) Ask the dentist to allow the chair to be upright during the appointment so that you are not lying down.
3) If dental dams or other instruments are too difficult for you, tell the dentist and see what alternatives there are.
If any Anxiety Sisters have other tips and suggestions for dealing with dental anxiety, please let us know!