Don’t Dread the Dentist!
Mark had a tooth which caused him pain every time he chewed. He put off going to the dentist because he had a lifelong fear of them. Soon, his entire jaw began to ache all the time. He started taking a couple of over the counter pain killer every few hours. Soon he had to take four or five pills when he could still feel the pain. A few days later his jaw swelled and Mark was in agony. His wife finally called the emergency dentist on call for help and dragged him to the office to be seen.
Mark has a common fear. He’s afraid of going to the dentist. What is it about that one medical person that makes us so afraid? Many people say it goes back to their very first trip to the dentist. Others don’t like the feeling of being helpless in the chair, tipped back, and unable to speak. Still others don’t like the idea of someone so close within their personal space. Whatever the reason may be, being afraid to go to the dentist is a common fear.
So how can you lessen the fear of the dreaded visit to the dentist?
I had a terrible first experience with the dentist myself.
I was about 3 1/2 or maybe 4 and I knocked one of my front teeth out while I was playing. Of course my parents took me to the first, closest dentist they could find! He wasn’t a very good dentist, though, and he started poking around (no novocaine!) saying he needed to get the root out. (Nonsense! You don’t need to do that with a baby tooth. ANY how….) my screams brought my Dad running and they took me out of there (whew!). But they still thought I needed to be seen and they took me to a children’s dentist.
I would not get into that chair! That chair was where bad things happened. My Dad was trained in hypnosis for his work as a social worker and he used pediatric hypnosis techniques with me, and had me pretend that the chair was my favorite piece of playground equipment and eventually got me into the chair and laying back and then he told me, “see that light? As long as that light is there you’ll feel just this good.”
That post-hypnotic suggestion has lasted my entire life! If I’m left alone, and not asked to handle suction tools or make small talk, I have gone so deep into hypnosis (before I even had my own training and understood what was happening) that I have had amnesia for tooth cleanings! And the idea of getting my teeth cleaned is as pleasant to me as the idea of getting a massage or a nice hair cut.
Learning self hypnosis or using a hypnosis audio would be a way to use these same ideas for yourself, to increase your comfort and reduce your fear of the dentist.
Here are some other ways to reduce your fear of the dentist, so that you can get the dental care you deserve to be healthy.
1. Make an Appointment with Your Dentist for a Tour: Many dentists don’t mind if you stop by to meet them, their staff, and see the treatment rooms. In fact, they actually prefer it. This is especially effective if you haven’t visited the dentist before or if your child is terrified of the Big Bad Dentist. Seeing the office, the treatment area, and meeting with the dentists ahead of being in the chair can help reduce your anxiety. It also gives you a chance to discuss your fears and anxieties with him or her. You aren’t the first or only person to be afraid of the dentist, after all. Let the dentist help with your fears.
Mark started fresh with a brand new dentist in the hopes his fears and anxieties wouldn’t also transfer. He called and met the staff, saw the office, and took note of the placement of the chair and instruments. The walls were painted a soft blue. There was soft music playing. There were even flat screen televisions mounted on the ceiling so patients could watch dvds and shows during the dental work. The staff answered all his questions without making him feel rushed or stupid. The dentist took the time to explain each procedure to him and exactly what he would do. Everyone supported him in ways he’d not experienced before.
“Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. Hair and teeth. A man got those two things he’s got it all.” ~ James Brown
2. Keep in Mind the Visit is Soon Over: The old saying, “the sooner you start the sooner it’s over” is true here. The dental trip won’t last all week. It’s just an hour or two at most, and for a cleaning, maybe 30 minutes. Focus on what you need to do after the appointment. Perhaps a visit to your favorite bookstore to pick up that new book you’ve had your eye on. Make a movie date with yourself and go to a film you’ve wanted to see but haven’t yet. Knowing you have something special planned after the appointment can help you see beyond the dentist and on to what awaits.
Mark planned his schedule for the day to allow him to go to his appointment, take in a movie, and then meet with his wife for dinner afterwards. He made the day an event rather than endurance. Planning ahead gave him time to anticipate the wonderful things that would happen after the dental work was completed. This is a bit like the rewards system. Finish the task and then gain the reward. Don’t let dental appointments take a bite out of you!
3. Start Relaxing Before You Go: If possible, play your favorite soothing music and make a focused effort to relax before you visit the dentist. A self hypnosis audio available here on this website is called ‘End Your Fear of the Dentist’ and can help you learn to release your anxiety. Listen to this several times before your next visit and you will be surprised at the results. Being able to relax and release your anxieties will make the visit better, regardless what work needs to be done.
Mark listened to the hypnosis audio before he left home the morning of his appointment. He listened again when he arrived at the dental office. When he relaxed, his anxieties and fears also subsided. He was able to go through the appointment without the crippling fear which had caused him to put off the visit until the pain grew too severe to ignore.
4. Communicate, Communicate, And Communicate! The dentist is a professional but he or she is not a mind reader. While many can notice the signs of increasing anxiety in patients (such as gripping the arms of the chair, body stiffening, and so on) they can’t know what is going on inside your head unless you tell them. Even in the midst of a procedure, many dentists will often stop and ask if you are all right. Don’t be afraid to shake your head or wave your hand. Setting up signals before the work is a good way to dispel the fear of not being able to communicate. They are accustomed to patients needing a moment or two to compose. You aren’t wasting anyone’s time nor are you being ridiculous. As the patient you are in control of the pace of your treatment. Take advantage of that. Make sure you communicate frequently with your dentist so he or she is aware what is happening with you.
Mark stopped his dentist several times on his first work appointment to help regain his composure. His dentist talked to him about his work, his family, and other non medical things during these ‘rest’ periods. Mark soon began to relax and the dentist could start again.
5. Prevent Future Times: The best way to avoid having to go to the doctor is to stay healthy, correct? While we can control some of our health, such as diet, exercise, and healthy habits, we do get sick now and then. It’s the same thing with the dentist. We can brush our teeth twice a day, floss, use mouthwash, etc. and still need to visit the dentist. Developing better dental habits helps reduce the number of dental trips. Brush after sugary and sticky snacks to help prevent cavities. Floss twice a day. Take care of your teeth and they will help take care of you. Not only will your dental trips decrease, your breath will be fresher and friends will surely thank you! Consider your dental habits as important as taking care of your body. An apple a day keeps the doctor and the dentist away.
Mark took more and better care of his teeth. He started getting regular cleanings and checkups. He didn’t wait until an emergency developed to schedule appointments. He noticed a much better rapport with his health.
The fear of the dentist is a common one. You aren’t alone. Many, if not most, dentists understand your fears and anxieties and are happy to help ease your feelings. Hopefully your next dental appointment will leave a big smile on your face!
Thought for the day: You don’t have to take care of all of your teeth. Only the ones you want to keep!