Easing Anxiety at the Dentist

With summer approaching and COVID-19 (mostly) in the rearview mirror, we’re finally getting caught up on some of the things we’ve put off, including dental visits.

Summer vacation is always a busy time for dentists with kids not bound by school schedules and parents enjoying increased flexibility at work. But if you or your kids have dental anxiety, catching up on appointments during your vacation might feel counterintuitive. 

If you’re feeling anxious about visiting the dentist, these tips can help make your next dental visit stress-free.

Go when it’s quieter

A bustling office can feel overwhelming at the best of times, but if you’re already feeling anxious, a crowded waiting room is likely to make things worse.

Ask your dentist to schedule you at the quietest time. This often means booking an early morning appointment. You’ll benefit from a calmer office and more attentive staff who aren’t rushing to deal with other patients.

Make sure you speak up

Both when booking your appointment and during your visit, make sure your dentist knows that you or your child are experiencing anxiety. It’s not unusual to dislike the dentist, and the best dentists will have lots of techniques to help you feel more at ease.

Sometimes fear is based on the lack of perceived control we have in a dentist’s chair. Asking questions about what’s happening can make you feel more in control of the situation. Have your dentist or hygienist fully explain each step of their care to you and let you know what to expect next.

Remind yourself that you can leave

Feeling a lack of control can also be addressed by reminding yourself or your children that you can leave at any time. Usually, once a visit is underway, patients are able to manage their anxiety to see it through to completion, but knowing that you have the option to get up and walk out can restore your feeling of control over an uncomfortable situation.

Allowing children the power to leave means the inconvenience of having to reschedule appointments, but in the long run, this can help to avoid a lifetime of anxiety. Many adults with dental anxiety blame it on negative childhood incidents, so creating positive dental experiences for your children is worth the extra effort.

Opting to take a short break instead of leaving can also give you time to refocus and calm down before completing the visit or treatment.

Take earphones and fidget toys

Anything that brings you or your children comfort can usually be accommodated by a caring dentist. If the sound of drills or other instruments makes you nervous, consider wearing noise-cancelling headphones or loading your device with favourite music and podcasts. 

For children, audio books can be an ideal distraction, requiring just enough of their attention to divert it from the dentist’s activities. Clinics may have televisions installed for easy patient viewing.

Stuffies, fidget toys, blankets or other comfort items are also good things to bring. Dressing comfortably in a cozy sweater and holding on to a cherished toy can help nervous children feel less alone.

Be assertive about pain control

Dentists often assume that all patients have the same pain threshold, but this isn’t true. It can be frustrating to be told as a patient that something won’t hurt when it actually feels quite painful.

If you’re in pain, ask about what can be done to help manage it. Sometimes, taking over-the-counter pain medication prior to a visit can help. Freezing techniques and other pain management alternatives are also available while you’re in the dentist’s chair. Speak up if you’re feeling any discomfort.

Additionally, dentists often use sedatives or nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to help put patients at ease and reduce pain. These can help make yo

Use calming techniques

While you’re in the dentist’s chair, focus on staying calm by using techniques like deep breathing or meditation. Taking slow, deep breaths increases the oxygen supply to your brain and is scientifically proven to induce calm feelings by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. This is an excellent technique to help you through lots of anxious situations, and having your children practice this simple activity will give them an invaluable life skill.

Have something to look forward to

Rewards can be powerfully motivating. Give your children something to look forward to at the end of a dental appointment. A simple trip to the park or a favourite bookstore can shift children’s focus from the unpleasant present to a future reward. Even adults benefit from promising themselves a specialty coffee or some other small reward at the conclusion of an unwelcome task.

Talk to a psychologist

While a little anxiety about the dentist is perfectly normal, children and adults who experience insurmountable anxiety should talk to a psychologist. Regular dental care is essential to overall good health and avoiding the dentist can have negative or dangerous consequences.

Talk to your dentist and try these tips and tricks to make visits more comfortable. If you’re still unable to book regular dental appointments, talk to a psychologist or counsellor trained in anxiety management who can give you additional techniques to help.

Remember to smile

Dental offices like to promise that you’ll leave with a smile, and Smiles on 34th is no exception. We love what we do and want to make your experience a positive one. Our welcoming office and accommodating staff can help you and your children overcome dental anxiety. Together, let’s make sure your smile is healthy and happy for years to come.