Nobody really ever enjoys going to the dentist but for some people, it can cause intense anxiety and nervousness. In fact, about 36% of people experience dental anxiety, so if you thought you were the only one, guess again!
Thankfully there are some ways you can calm your nerves and relax (even if just barely) at your next dentist appointment.
1. Breathing Exercises
If you're like most people, you tend to hold your breath or breathe shallowly when you're nervous. But according to this article from Forbes, this just makes your anxiety worse. Next time you're in the dentist's chair, try some easy breathing exercises to calm your nerves.
For example, breath counting is an effective breathing exercise and can be done in the dentist's chair.
To do breath counting, you'll sit in a comfortable position and start by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths.
Then you'll breathe normally and mentally count at each exhale, up to 5 counts. Repeat as long as you need. Keeping it to 5 counts allows you to refocus on your breaths and not on your anxious thoughts.
2. Visualization and Guided Imagery
Visualization and guided imagery are relaxation techniques that help you imagine yourself being in a different state to reduce stress at that moment. In other words, it's going to your happy place.
To use visualization as a way to calm down in the dentist chair, simply close your eyes and imagine yourself in a different environment, such as the beach.
For guided imagery, focus on the way the waves swish back and forth, and the sound of the birds in the sky. Think about how the sand feels on your feet and the smell of the air. Try to engage all your senses and allow yourself to fully relax.
There are many guided imagery resources available, so you may want to explore which ones you prefer before your appointment.
3. Meditation and Mindfulness Apps
Using a meditation or mindfulness app is another way to relax next time you’re sitting in the dentist’s chair. These work in a similar way to guided imagery and both have stress-relieving benefits.
When meditating, you focus on something like your breathing, an object, or a sensation – and continue to bring your attention back to that single thing.
Some meditation and mindfulness apps have different functionalities than others, so it’s best to explore different meditation apps before your appointment so you know which one you want to use when the time comes.
Aromatherapy is great at reducing stress and helping you to relax no matter where you are. One of the easiest ways to benefit from aromatherapy is to use essential oils for stress relief.
You can use them on diffuser bracelets or earrings, which have beads or clay that soak in the essential oil and slowly release the oils throughout the day.
Another option is to use them topically, whether on their own or in a stress-relieving lotion. Just make sure that the oil you use is safe to use on the skin and has been diluted as needed.
5. Relaxing Sounds (Music, White Noise, or ASMR)
Listening to relaxing sounds is also incredibly soothing, whether it’s your favorite music, white noise, or ASMR.
Most dentists don’t mind patients having a pair of headphones in for the visit, so create a playlist of relaxing songs and sounds before your appointment.
Each option relaxes your nervous system in different ways, but the benefit of reducing anxiety is the same.
If you’re not used to one of these methods, consider exploring it anyway. It may end up being more helpful than other common stress coping techniques that you’ve used before.
For example, ASMR is still relatively new and is being studied, but it’s been proven to relieve stress and promote a deep state of relaxation.
6. Distract Your Brain
The worst thing that you can do in a dentist's chair is to dwell on the worst-case scenarios that feed your anxiety. You can combat this by intentionally distracting yourself with exciting or calming thoughts.
Here are some things you can think of to keep your mind off of what's going on:
- Your next home project
- Your plans for the rest of the day
- What you'll have for lunch or dinner
- An event you're planning
- Something upcoming that you're excited about
7. Small Comforts and Fidgets
Having something small to fidget with or touch can make you feel safer and more comfortable.
Do you have an object that you gravitate towards in stressful environments or even something like a lucky penny?
If so, bring that along to your dentist appointment and hold onto it or think about it when you’re feeling anxious.
Some examples of small comforts and fidgets that can help you feel safer and more in control are:
- A lucky object
- Hair tie, bracelet, keychain, or ring to fidget with
- Wearing a long sleeve shirt to pull on
- A soft scarf or jacket
- Stress ball
- Bubble Popper
8. Bring a Comforting Friend
If you have someone in your life who helps you feel more relaxed and safe, ask them if they can tag along with you at your next appointment.
Some dentists allow a second person in the room while others ask that they stay in the waiting room, but even knowing that you have someone waiting for you can be comforting.
This also gives you something to look forward to and focus on throughout your appointment. You can also relieve pent-up anxiety afterward by talking about it with this person if they’re open to it.
Other Tips for Coping with Dental Anxiety
While the tips in this post will help you relieve anxiety and feel more relaxed in the dentist’s chair, there are other ways to cope with your anxiety before and after your appointment.
Find An Anxiety-Conscious Dentist
A good dentist will understand that many patients will have different levels of anxiety about going to the dentist, and will be accommodating to them.
If at all possible, find a dentist's office that is friendly, knowledgeable, and understanding of dental anxieties and phobias, and who has methods in place to help anxious patients.
Some ways your dentist may accommodate for your anxiety could be by offering the following:
- Numbing gels
- Oral sedation
- Nitrous oxide (inhalation sedation)
- IV sedation
- Hand warmers
- White noise or TV
- Shaded glasses
Be Honest With Your Dentist
It can be difficult to talk about your anxiety and specific concerns, but being open and honest with the dental staff can be very helpful.
This way, they know what to expect from you as a patient and can find some personalized solutions to help you feel more comfortable, such as:
- Coming up with a sign or signal for when you need a break
- An agreement to take a break every several minutes or other set amounts of time
It can also be helpful to ask your dentist to explain what they'll be doing or even offer commentary as they go. On the flip side, if you'd rather not be aware of the process, you can also ask them to not explain anything.
Make An Appointment At The Right Time For You
Sometimes getting it out of the way first will interfere less with the rest of your day. You may find that you experience less anxiety with an early appointment and that you don’t think about it as much beforehand.
Of course, the opposite is also true. If you find yourself most stressed out in the morning and having an early appointment increases your anxiety, try to get a slot later in the day.
Watch Dental Videos To Prepare
This one may or may not work for you, but if you prefer to know what you’re getting into and like to prepare, watching dental videos a day or two before your appointment may help relieve your anxiety. You can imagine yourself in the video so you feel more confident when your actual appointment comes.
It’s also comforting to see that there are successful dental experiences and what you may be fearful of isn’t as scary or likely to happen. This may not feel true if you’ve had previous traumatic experiences at the dentist, so give yourself grace if this is the case.
You Can Overcome Your Dental Anxiety!
It’s absolutely normal to have anxiety or even a phobia around going to the dentist. You are not alone! There are many reasons people experience dental anxiety, such as a bad experience or pain. Others aren’t really sure where their anxiety comes from. In either case, coping with your dental anxiety is possible.
If you feel that the tips in this post aren’t enough to help you and you experience stress to the point your oral health is suffering, consider talking to a therapist. There are even online therapy options like Talk Space that make it less intimidating and more convenient.
You deserve to overcome your anxiety and to prioritize your health – in and out of the dentist’s chair!