Going to the dentist can be a nerve-wracking experience that almost everyone can relate to. From the blinding lights, loud tools, and awkward conversations with another person’s fingers in your mouth, it’s not hard to see why most people feel uneasy.
To relax in the dentist chair, you can discuss the procedure you’re undertaking with your dentist, do breathing exercises, meditation, or bring a trusted friend for support. You can also talk to your doctor or dentist about anti-anxiety medications that are safe to take before your appointment.
The rest of this article will dive into the different ways to relieve dental anxiety and why these methods are so useful. I will also explain dentophobia, potential symptoms, and what you can do to improve your anxiety.
What You Can Do To Relax in the Dentist Chair
If you’re someone who gets anxious about visits to the dentist, you’re not alone. It is difficult to entrust your dental care to someone else. However, despite the anxiety, semi-annual dental appointments are essential to maintaining oral hygiene. They’re also helpful for preventative dental care and for treating dangerous ailments of the mouth.
Luckily, there are several techniques to relieve your anxiety when you’re in the dentist chair. Let’s explore these techniques in more detail:
Communicate With Your Dentist
Many people get nervous at the dentist because they don’t understand what their physician is doing. Therefore, openly discussing your concerns prior to your appointment can help ease any tension you may have.
When booking an appointment, share your concerns with the receptionist you initially speak to, as they can make a note on your file for the dentist to see. Additionally, discuss those concerns with your dentist before the appointment starts. They will be able to explain the procedure and work with you to help ease any of your discomforts.
Breathwork and other meditative techniques can help slow the heart rate and relieve anxiety symptoms.
Two standard breathing techniques that have calming effects are the Box Method and the 4-7-8 Method.
- Box Method: You breathe in to the count of four, hold your breath for four, exhale for four, and repeat.
- 4-7-8 Method: You breathe in to the count of four, hold your breath for seven, exhale for eight seconds, and repeat.
These methods are particularly effective because they wake up the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the system that regulates your body’s anxiety response.
While breathwork is simple and easy to do, it’s not the only mindfulness technique you can use to calm your nerves. Other relaxing techniques include guided imagery and meditation.
Meditation has become a common practice to relieve stress. It involves focusing the mind on your breathing while not giving attention to your thoughts.
When you’re in the dentist chair, close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Your mind will jump to the procedure your dentist is undertaking. However, try to pull yourself from those thoughts and return your attention to your breathing.
If you are alone at your dentist appointment, you might feel isolated, and more anxious. Therefore, having a trusted friend or family member with you during your appointment can help you feel calmer. Ensure that whoever you bring with you knows why you are anxious and how they can help if needed.
As a last resort, you can speak with your physician about using prescribed medication to keep yourself calm. Usually, anti-anxiety medications have a sedative effect, so planning your appointment ahead of time is essential. Some examples of sedative medication are laughing gas, mild sedation, and complete anesthesia.
Laughing gas (scientifically named nitrous oxide) is a gas you breathe through an oxygen mask before your dentist begins the appointment. It will make you feel relaxed, happy, and anxiety-free.
Mild sedation can be administered through an IV and may put you into a very light sleep for the procedure.
Complete anesthesia is usually used for major dental procedures. It can only be administered in a hospital by someone specializing in anesthetics.
Please note that medication use would be up to your physician and shouldn’t be used without consultation.
Other Anxiety Reducing Techniques
Some final tips to relax your body and mind at the dentist involve distracting yourself through television shows, podcasts, or music. If you sit idle with nothing to distract you, you’ll find yourself overthinking about your upcoming dentist appointment and stress yourself more.
Fidget toys, which have risen in popularity over the years, are excellent gadgets to keep your hands and mind busy. You can channel all your stress and tension into this gadget.
And if you need to wait for your appointment for a lengthy period, bring a book to read or finish knitting that toque for your newborn niece. Don’t allow yourself to stew in negative or fearful thoughts leading up to or during your dentist appointment.
Fight or Flight, Rest and Digest
To better understand the mechanisms behind many of these techniques, it’s best to start with understanding how anxiety works in the body.
The phrases fight or flight and rest and digest are commonplace and directly reference the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems that regulate our stress levels. These nervous systems are a part of the body’s autonomic nervous system.
When we experience a stressful event, such as visiting the dentist, our senses send signals to our brains to communicate potential danger. As a result, the brain fires up the sympathetic nervous system, creating physiological changes that help our bodies overcome stress.
For example, our heart rate and blood pressure might increase, we may start to sweat, and our senses become better attuned. This is our body’s physiological response to threats; it is what fight or flight refers to. This is because our body is preparing to expend lots of energy to escape danger through fighting or fleeing.
On the other hand, rest and digest refers to the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which returns our bodies to baseline physiological behavior after the threat of danger has passed. So, once our senses signal to the brain that it’s safe to slow down, the parasympathetic nervous system does just that – slows the threat response down.
This usually looks like our breathing becoming more regular, heart rate and blood pressure returning to normal, and our senses relaxing. The parasympathetic nervous system tells the body to rest and regain energy.
Dentophobia is the chronic fear of dental visits. It is characterized by many symptoms that indicate anxiety, such as sweating, shaking, or experiencing a rapid heartbeat.
This phobia can have several root causes. For example, if you had a traumatic experience at the dentist, or if you are suffering from other mental health disorders. These can trigger the presence of dentophobia.
Dentophobia can prevent people from seeking dental care or attending scheduled appointments, which can be detrimental to their health in the long run.
If this is the case, cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective tool for phobia management. Cognitive behavioral therapy targets one’s cognition (thoughts and perceptions) and behavior to make meaningful lifestyle changes with the help of a licensed professional.
It’s normal to feel nervous in the dentist’s chair. Coping mechanisms that can help relieve your anxiety include:
- Communicating your concerns with your dentist.
- Practicing breathwork and meditation techniques to relax your nervous system.
- Bringing a friend to offer emotional support.
- Listening to music or a podcast.
- Bringing a toy or book to distract you.
- Discussing medication/therapy options with your physician if you believe you can’t cope with your anxiety.