dental anxiety

How to Cope With Dental Anxiety

I talked about this on social media, but I wanted to talk about it a little more.
Let’s talk about one of the hidden symptoms of anxiety and depression… it makes you lose your teeth.

Not directly, but it’s often a symptom. For me, I was pretty depressed through out my teens and early 20s so oral hygiene wasn’t at the top of my list.

And anxiety. Anxiety meant that to make a dentist’s appointment, I had to talk on the phone (horrifying) to a stranger (even more horrifying) and make an appointment that would give me anxiety every day up to the appointment. Then I had to go to that appointment and have a stranger digging in my mouth and judging me.

The dentist was somewhere I went when I was in so much pain I thought I was going to die. By then, the damage was usually done and my options were a root canal or having the tooth pulled. (I got a root canal once, never made the 2nd appointment for the crown and two years later the tooth had to be pulled anyway after the temporary filling broke and I procrastinated again)

Where this anxiety started.

As a kid, my mom was a single mom, who was working two jobs and had three kids, one of them autistic. Going to the dentist was not at the top of the list when we were trying to survive. So from a very young age I began to associate it as a last resort.

Six years ago, I went to the dentist, I was in a lot of pain. And the hygienist looked at my teeth, and she said, “You have such a pretty smile but you need to take better care of your teeth if you want to keep it.” I was horrified by that comment.

I felt so ashamed. How to explain to her that often my depression was so bad I couldn’t get out of bed? Or some days I couldn’t bring myself to shower? I never went back there.

Last year, one of my New Years Resolutions was to conquer my fear and anxiety and get all of my dental work done no matter what.

Even when I wasn’t in pain. Even when it wasn’t an emergency. And even when I didn’t want to.

So I went. First I had a root scaling and planing, which is a deep cleaning where the plaque has gotten under your gums and caused gum disease from lack of regular cleanings. That took two appointments to get done.

Then I had two teeth pulled.

Next was my six month cleaning.

Then my bottom teeth got fillings.

And yesterday, my top teeth got their fillings.

I am officially done with all of my dental work!

My next appointment is months from now and just a check-up/cleaning.

While it’s a bit embarrassing to admit that at 33 years old this is the first time in my life where I’m not putting off/ignoring a dental procedure, I’m also super proud of myself.

So if this is something that you’ve struggled with, you are not alone.

Here are some of the things that helped me.

Find the right dentist.

My dentist actually used to be kids-only. This seemed like a big plus to me. If they can handle kids, surely they can handle me. I called the office to make my first appointment and I explained that I had anxiety and I asked what the dentist was like. “She’s very calm and soft-spoken, you will love her.”

And I do. She’s such a sweet person and she totally gets it!

Bring something to distract yourself.

A lot of dentists have TVs in the room, find something comforting/funny to watch. Listen to music, meditations, podcasts while you’re in the waiting room. Focus on relaxing your mind.

Bring a stress ball to squeeze during your procedure if you’re getting nervous.

My first few appointments, I sat in the waiting room watching episodes of Golden Girls to help me laugh and stop being so nervous.

Find the appointment schedule that works for you.

All of my appointments took about a year to do. I tried to do one every other month. Initially, I wanted to get it done as soon as possible, but I knew that it would drain and overwhelm me very quickly.

So, I tried to schedule appointments during low-stress times and sometimes it was still too much. If I found an appointment coming up and I just didn’t have the ability to go because my dental anxiety was too high for other reasons… I rescheduled.

Use mindfulness techniques.

Meditation, breathing exercises, and visualizations are your friend.
Focusing on your breathing, reassure yourself over and over again, and come up with a mantra that helps you feel better about everything.

Practice your self-care for anxiety leading up to your appointment!

It’s okay to ask for extra help.

If your anxiety gets worse as the procedure goes on, talk about hand signals that you can give your dentist to get a break.

Sometimes having oxygen before or during your procedure can help calm you down.

dental anxiety

Nitrous oxide can also help relax you.

Talk to your dentist about other suggestions that can help you cope with getting through the appointments.

People are there to help you.

Remember that your dentist is there to help you! Their job is to help ease your pain, help fix whatever problems are going on, and they want to alleviate your anxiety. They aren’t the enemy and they aren’t scary.

Trust in them having your best interests and wanting to help you. See them as people who got into this field to do good work.

Going to the dentist isn’t an easy fear or phobia to conquer I wouldn’t even say that I’ve conquered it, it still makes me anxious. But it’s something that I’ve learned to deal with, and I am so proud of getting to this point.

It’s embarrassing to admit that your teeth aren’t at their greatest because your brain keeps telling you to run away from the tools and resources that can help.

Living with anxiety and depression is more than just being sad or nervous.

I’m committed to talking about all aspects of mental health. Thanks for being part of the conversation with me.

How do you cope with dental anxiety?