Many dentists are familiar with patients who have dental anxiety and are more than willing to help you manage that anxiety. However, they don’t know that you are feeling anxious about something if you don’t tell them. Discussing your dental anxieties and fears with your dentist before they start anything can be empowering and make you feel a sense of control. With severe cases of dental anxiety, you may want to schedule an appointment just to discuss these concerns and then return at a later date for the actual dental appointment.
Part of feeling comfortable in the dentist’s chair is to feel comfortable with the dentist. In most cases, bad dental experiences are not a result of dentistry itself, but the dentist. Having the wrong dentist can cause you to associate the dentist’s office with negative or unpleasant experiences, which further increases your dental anxiety. Taking time to choose the right dentist is a very important step to managing dental anxiety.
Certain relaxation techniques like deep breathing, acupressure, and meditation can work well to help you decrease your anxiety levels. However, the key to using relaxation techniques effectively is to practice them several times before you are in an anxious state. This is because relaxation techniques work best when your body has been trained to respond to them. Another way you can relax in the dentist’s chair is to listen to music, an audiobook, or a podcast. Instead of focusing on your anxiety, you can focus on what you are listening to. This also works well to drown out any anxiety-inducing noises.
If you know you have a dentist appointment later in the day, skip that morning cup of coffee. Caffeine is a stimulant, which will serve as fuel for your anxiety and will make it worse. You should also avoid sugary foods as well. Instead, focus on eating high protein foods because they naturally produce a calming effect on the body.
If the above strategies do not seem to be working for you, or if you have extreme dental anxiety, then dental sedation may be an ideal option for you. There are varying levels of dental sedation that can be used to relax you, put you in a light sleep, and render you completely unconscious. One common dental sedation method used for dental anxiety is nitrous oxide because it is an inhaled gas that calms you down without lasting effects after the procedure.
While dental anxiety can make it a challenge to visit the dentist’s office, strategies such as talking with your dentist, making sure you have the right dentist, distraction through relaxation techniques or music, avoiding caffeine, and dental sedation can help you feel more comfortable at the dental office. Some of these strategies may require practice or planning ahead, but they can be worth it if they alleviate your stress.
Dr. Anthony Mancino is Monmouth and Ocean County New Jersey’s General and Cosmetic Dentist and has been practicing for over 25 years focusing on cosmetic and overall dental health. Dr. Mancino is a graduate of Villanova University and University of Pennsylvania. He is also a member of the American Dental Association, New Jersey Dental Association, Monmouth & Ocean County Dental Association, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and the Academy of General Dentistry.