Overcoming Your Dental Anxiety
Going to the dentist regularly is essential for your oral and overall health; it allows dentists to perform preventative cleanings and to spot issues early. Even though a dental visit is necessary for our health, most Americans experience mild to severe dental anxiety. This often means that visits to the dentist are stressful and exhausting—some people even avoid going to the dentist altogether in order to avoid the genuine fear that they associate with it.
Here are a few things you and your dentist can do to help reduce anxiety levels during your dental visit while ensuring that you get the dental care you need.
1. Discuss using hand signals.
If you’re suffering from dental anxiety, tell Dr. Khodadoust. She understands and will take your fears seriously—and once she knows, she can plan accordingly. You can work out hand signals that you can use to communicate with Dr. Khodadoust throughout your appointment, allowing you to let her know when you’re getting anxious and need a breather. Additionally, if it eases your anxiety to know exactly what she’s doing throughout the procedure, Dr. Khodadoust can explain each step to you.
Discussing these factors with your dentist is essential for working out a plan that will help you feel calm during your appointment. If you try to discuss your anxiety with a dentist who simply brushes your fears aside and refuses to listen, find a different dentist. They clearly aren’t the right dentist for you—and there are plenty of skilled dentists out there who will listen to your fears and work with you to lessen them.
2. Listen to music.
The sound of the drill or other dental tools can increase some patients’ anxiety. If this is the case for you, a great way to lessen your anxiety is to listen to music with headphones during your appointment. You can also listen to an audiobook or podcast—whatever works best for you. This will drown out the sound of the dental tools and give you something that you find relaxing or enjoyable to focus on. If you forget your earbuds at home, our office can provide some for you as part of our comfort menu.
3. Limit caffeine and sugar.
While sugary, caffeine-rich food and drinks are delicious and can wake you up for work or class in a pinch, you may want to try limiting or avoiding them before your appointment. A little caffeine or sugar probably won’t be a problem, but too much of it can make you jittery and stimulate your “fight or flight” response, making your anxiety worse. On the other hand, there is something soothing about holding a hot mug of tea or coffee in your hands. When you have a dental appointment, try drinking decaffeinated drinks or calming drinks like chamomile tea instead. To help provide the soothing effect that a warm drink can give you, our comfort menu also offers complimentary drinks.
4. Focus on your breathing.
When you feel anxious or fearful, a natural response is to tense up and either begin holding your breath or hyperventilating. This simply makes your anxiety worse because it decreases your oxygen levels, which leaves you feeling even more panicked. If you find yourself tensing up and holding your breath before or during your appointment, try focusing on breathing and relaxing each of your muscles, much like you would using mindfulness techniques or meditation. These techniques work because they increase the amount of oxygen in your blood and help your body to feel the way it does when it’s relaxed—which essentially tricks you into feeling more relaxed!
5. Try sedation dentistry.
If you’re still experiencing anxiety during each dental visit, you might want to try sedation dentistry. The word “sedation” might make you think about general anesthesia, which puts patients to sleep for an entire procedure, but sedation dentistry doesn’t always involve putting you completely to sleep. One method of sedation is nitrous oxide, commonly referred to as “laughing gas.” The gas is inhaled through a small mask that goes over your nose, and it’s a perfect solution for many patients who experience severe dental anxiety.
Since the gas doesn’t put you to sleep, you’re able to follow Dr. Khodadoust’s directions and answer her questions throughout the procedure, but the laughing gas relieves your anxiety and replaces it with feelings of euphoria—basically, you feel stress-free and downright happy for the entire procedure. You might be a little more giggly than usual, but you likely won’t start laughing uncontrollably—that would make the gas impractical for doing dental work! Laughing gas can cause some other side effects, the most common of which are light-headedness and limbs that feel tingly or heavy. In rare cases, patients experience mild hallucinations, headaches, nausea, confusion, or pain and numbness in their legs.
These side effects aren’t as common, but it’s important for you to know that they’re possible. Many patients consider the laughing gas worth it, as it eliminates or significantly reduces their anxiety during their procedures. Everyone is different, however, and if the prospect of using the gas makes you more anxious, it might not be the right solution for you. If you do want to give it a try, the gas wears off incredibly quickly—usually within two minutes—so it’s easy to stop at any time. Additionally, since it wears off so quickly, you’ll most likely be able to drive yourself home after your appointment.
The Triangle Family Dental Approach
Maintaining your oral health is an important part of keeping your entire body healthy and will help to ensure that you’ll be able to keep your natural teeth for an entire lifetime. It’s important to us that you’re able to get the oral care that you need in a manner that respects your needs, and makes you as comfortable as possible.
We have many options for you to choose from to make your dental visit more enjoyable. If you’re curious about the other methods our office uses to help reduce our patients’ anxiety, feel free to check out our comfort menu or call us with questions at any time.
“You are our main concern. Let us know how we can best serve you!” — Dr. Marjan Khodadoust, Triangle Family Dental.