If you feel nervous about climbing into the dental chair, you’re not alone: Dental phobias and anxieties keep as many as 40 million Americans away from the dentist each year, and with potentially serious oral health consequences.
In my 25-plus years as a family dentist, I’ve helped many patients feel at ease in the dental chair so they can receive the treatments and preventive care they need to attain and maintain optimal oral health.
Here at Modern Age Dentistry, we understand that dental anxiety may stem from a previous bad experience at the dentist, or a dislike of needles, the sound of the drill, or simply from having work done inside your mouth.
If you’re willing to face your fears and anxieties head-on, there’s a lot we can do to help. When you visit any of our Southern California offices in West Hills, Ojai, or Los Angeles, you can be sure that we’ll do our best to put you at ease every step of the way.
The importance of regular dental care
For most people, annual or biannual cleanings and exams form the foundation of preventive dental care and optimal oral health. During these routine appointments, I can spot early signs of cavities, gum disease, and other common problems, and offer proper treatment before those problems get worse.
Having regular professional cleanings also helps prevent cavities, because our advanced dental equipment removes plaque more effectively than the manual or electric toothbrush you use at home.
We also have the tools and expertise required to remove tartar or calcified plaque. Tartar, which is something that even the best oral care routine can’t remove without professional help, leads to gum disease and eventually tooth loss when it’s allowed to linger or progress.
Tips for staying calm at the dentist
While there are many effective strategies for easing your fear and anxiety about the dentist, you just need to find the one strategy — or combination of strategies — that works best for you.
Here are some of my best tips for successfully overcoming your dental anxiety to stay calm and relaxed in the chair:
Be open about your fears
Open and honest communication is one of the easiest and most effective ways for you to finally put your anxieties to rest. If you trust that your dental team has your best interests in mind, you can more easily express your fears.
Whenever a patient tells me that they’re anxious or nervous, I take the time to go over every aspect of the treatment to take the fear of the unknown out of the equation. When you feel informed and in control, you’re less likely to feel anxious.
Bring someone with you
Having someone you know and trust at your side in the exam room can make a world of difference, especially if that person is naturally calm and reassuring. This strategy works wonders with many children who are nervous at the dentist, and it’s just as effective for many anxious adults.
Practice self-care ahead of your visit
If you don’t get enough sleep the night before your dental visit, or you drink too much caffeine ahead of your appointment, it’ll be that much harder to feel calm in the chair. Simply getting a good night’s sleep before your cleaning, exam, or procedure can go a long way in helping you stay relaxed.
Avoid caffeine because it can make you feel jittery, exacerbating your feelings of anxiety. Children and adults alike should also skip sugary foods, which can put you on edge. If you have to eat before your visit, try a high-protein snack like plain yogurt, as protein-rich foods can have a calming effect.
It can also help to practice slow, deep breathing any time you feel anxious about your appointment. Controlled breathing, which you can continue both in the waiting room and in the dental chair, can alleviate panic and stress.
This simple strategy is often as effective for children as it is for adults. For many people, distraction can be as easy as watching an interesting television program on the screen that faces the chair.
If you want a complete form of distraction, you may be better off listening to calming music through earbuds. Not only will it drown out the sound of the drill, it can also help you feel more relaxed.
Set expectations with us
Letting us know about your anxiety is the first step toward managing it effectively, but that doesn’t mean you’ll feel calm through each step of your treatment or exam.
Because we want you to have a good experience in our office, it’s important that you let us know if there’s a procedure that you’re just not ready for.
We never want to push you into something you don’t want to do; we’d rather take the time to work with you to help you overcome your anxiety. You should never hesitate to ask questions, raise concerns, or postpone a treatment that you don’t feel ready for.
Bonus tip: Pet a pooch!
Did you know that petting and/or cuddling an animal can calm nerves and relieve anxiety? The only problem here is that bringing your own pet to the dentist is generally not allowed, and not many dentist offices have a resident therapy animal for you to snuggle when those nerves hit. Fortunately, we do! One of the many offerings that sets our practice apart from other dentist offices is Princess, our resident therapy dog. Princess is a loving and friendly Golden Retriever who enjoys every second of her job; calming the fears and anxiety of both our child and adult patients. Stop by today and meet Princess yourself!