Mighty Life List
Jan 7 2011

7 Tips for Overcoming Fear of the Dentist

Historically, I’ve been so terrified of the dentist I would have panic attacks at the thought of going — I mean that literally. I felt like I was going to pass out or throw up, or possibly die a horrible dental chair death to a symphony of drills. This complicated things when I finally got dental insurance and had an appointment where they told me I’d need about $30,000 of work beyond what was covered. That was when I was 22.

If you’re similarly terrified of the dentist, I found that being trapped in the elevator at my dentist office really helped put things in perspective, so try that. Otherwise, my tips for overcoming dental paralysis for major procedures are as follows:

1. Manage your own pain. Accept that there’s no need for you to feel anything beyond the novocaine shot. The minute you do, ask for more novocaine. Because of the panic, I metabolize that stuff like crazy, and have to ask for up to two reapplications per procedure. Raise a finger so they know to pause and tell them you have sensation. A good dentist is uncomfortable when you are, and they’ll take care of it or explain your options.

2. Close your eyes. You don’t need to see the implements. Especially not the needle. Breathe.

3. Pay attention to your body. Note how your entire body is clenched like a vise? Concentrate on relaxing your muscles one and at time, from the toes up. Unclench your jaw. Unfurrow your brow. If you feel yourself panicking, start again from the toes.

4. Wear headphones. Loud, soothing music you rarely listen to in real life. No need to sabotage your favorite tunes with dental recall. Ask your dentist to squeeze your hand if he or she needs something.

5. Find an escape. If your dentist doesn’t already have one, ask him or her to hang a poster of a soothing scene (the ocean or something) on the ceiling above the chair. That way, if you do open your eyes, there’s something non medical to look at.

6. Care for yourself. When you’re back at home, ice your jaw and rinse gently with warm saltwater whenever you’re in pain. This controls swelling and infection, both of which cause a lot of the post-procedural pain. If they gave you painkillers, take them the first day even if you don’t think you need them. If they gave you antibiotics, set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take every last one of them.

7. Take it easy. Trashy magazines, warm broth, ice cream.

Rinse. Repeat.

What did I forget? Tips for making your dentists appointment more bearable? Fill us in.