I remember the helpless feeling as the chair tilted back. The palms of my hands were sweating and my heart pounded loudly in my chest. The smell of latex … the gleam of the instruments … a man with a mask loomed over me … and that’s when it happened. I bit the dentist!
I was 11 years old and terrified of the dentist. Four years earlier, I’d endured the painful repair of a chipped tooth and the experience left me anxious and afraid. Needless to say, the dentist was less than pleased about the teeth marks I left on his thumb and promptly sent me home. I returned two weeks later, in a Valium-induced state of relaxation and all went well.
My fear, however, did not dissipate. As an adult, I managed to avoid the dentist’s chair for 10 years. But then came the day my children were old enough for their first dental checkups. How could I take my kids to the dentist and whisper calm assurances when deep down, I was more scared than they were?
I decided, once and for all, to overcome my fear of the dentist. Following are four tips I learned along the way.
Find a dentist that specializes in gentle dentistry.
I asked friends and family members for recommendations of dentists who are great with kids. Yes, I was almost 30 years old, but I knew I would need the same level of reassurance as the 3-year-old in the chair next to me.
If you are unable to secure a referral from a friend, check your local yellow pages. Many dentists who specialize in gentle dentistry advertise their kid-friendly approaches.
Tell the dentist about your fears.
Before any work begins, explain your fears to the dentist. As you recount your past dental experiences, be sure to describe exactly what causes you fear. Is it the lack of control? The sound of the drill? The anticipation of possible pain?
When you tell your dentist your specific concerns, you can work together to find comfortable solutions. I use a hand signal to indicate when I need a break. If I feel even the slightest pain or discomfort, I raise my left hand and my dentist stops working immediately until I’m ready to continue.
Listen to soothing music.
Following my 10-year dental hiatus, this strategy helped me through the filling of a cavity. I created a playlist of my favorite calming music and listened to it throughout the procedure. I kept the volume loud enough to drown out the sound of the drill.
Have a trusted friend or family member drive you to the dentist.
Just when I was finally getting over my fear of the dentist, I needed a wisdom tooth removed. I’d heard so many horror stories about the removal of wisdom teeth. I decided to ask my mom to drive me to the oral surgeon’s office.
I chose my mom because I knew she wouldn’t downplay my fears. She understood my long history of dental phobia and took it seriously. Also, I knew if my mom drove, there was no chance I could back out or change my mind.
Dental care is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. The strategies I employed worked for me. But, there are other options for reducing dental anxiety, including various levels of sedation dentistry. If you, too, struggle with dental fear, I encourage you to talk with your dentist or other health professional to see which approach might work best for you!