10 Ways to Be Less Nervous about a Trip to the Dentist

Wednesday, April 3, 2019


Recently, I had my first dentist appointment - & teeth cleaning - in more than four years. I know, I know. This is unacceptable!

Last month, I wrote about my history of fear of dental work & announced a new partnership with Hudec Dental, a neighborhood dental office with 20 locations across Northeast Ohio. Now, having finally done a cleaning - & chatted with my amazing, kind, helpful, friendly hygienist, Sandra, for tips for scaredy-cats like me - I'm back... with tips for scaredy-cats like me!
 

1. Do your research.

Don't yet have a dentist? Ask friends & family where they go; if they have a dentist or hygienist they love, try to schedule an appointment with that provider. If you're going someplace like Hudec, which has multiple locations & providers, you can even call their customer care line or fill out an online request form to ask which provider might be best for you, based on your history, personality, nerves, etc. Hudec's professional staff gave me a list of four dentists I might like, & I picked the one closest to me - perfect combo!
 

2. Schedule your appointment for a low-key day. 

Especially if you haven't been to the dentist in awhile, try not to squeeze your appointment into a super-busy day, between meetings, calls, & projects. If possible, choose a day when the rest of your schedule is light, so you don't have to stress about work and the dentist and whatever else is going on that day.
 

3. Take it easy on the caffeine.

I love my morning latte, but I also know that if I'm already a ball of nerves, sometimes it makes me more jittery than usual. The day of my dentist appointment, I skipped my morning caffeine fix & instead treated myself to that latte after my appointment had ended - & my nerves had subsided.


4. Meditate a little.

In the same vein as not drinking extra caffeine, you can take proactive steps to chill out & feel more Zen before your appointment. Before I left home, I did a couple minutes with the Calm app to help me feel... you know, a little bit more calm. It did wonders for my nerves!
 

5. Be prepared.

Sandra told me, "From a clinical perspective, we are doing a lot behind the scenes and the more prepared the patient is, the better the flow of the appointment." Do your homework before your appointment, & come prepared: Bring your ID & your health insurance card, & if you don't have insurance, be sure to call ahead to sort out a payment plan. If you haven't been to the dentist in awhile, arrive a little early to fill out any necessary paperwork - with time to spare.

6. Write down your questions & concerns in advance.

On the topic of being prepared, prepare your own questions, too. If you're worried about one particular aspect of the appointment or about your dental care overall, write it out so you don't forget to ask about it. "The more prepared you are, the better the appointment will flow," Sandra advised - & isn't that true about all of life?!
 

7. Be honest about your nervousness. 

I'm a big fan of being up-front about my feelings, & a trip to the dentist is no different. Tell the office staff you're nervous, from the front desk folks to the hygienist to the dentist. They can't read your mind, so they won't know to give you special treatment unless you relay that you need it. Sandra pointed out, "Sometimes you're nervous about something that is not even going to happen, or is not even common practice anymore. If you know what to expect, it can calm your nerves."
 

8. Squeeze a stress ball.

When Sandra started to examine my gums, I got really nervous about whether it would hurt. Spoiler: It didn't - but in anticipation, I was gripping the arms of the dental chair so hard that you'd have thought I was in a turbulent airplane situation. Next time, I'm going to bring a stress ball with me so I have something softer to squeeze. Sandra & her coworker even wondered aloud if a Hudec-branded stress ball might be a good piece of swag for the office to start offering!


9. Put on your headphones.

I received this tip long ago from a dentist in D.C.: If the sounds of the dentist's office give you the heebie-jeebies, pipe your favorite tunes into your ears throughout the process. It totally works for me! Sandra explained, "There is a lot of noise, and if you are anxious, hearing the noises of the office can make it worse. To patients, everything sounds like a drill. By all means, ask your provider if you can wear headphones so you can play music and mask the sounds of the office!" - just don't be surprised when you have to take them off to, you know, talk to your provider about your teeth.
 

10. Don't be embarrassed.

If it's been awhile since your last cleaning, you may feel inclined to fudge the truth or just feel generally humiliated when talking to your provider, which can heighten those nerves. I was sure my dentist would chastise me for not having been in sooner, but both he & Sandra were incredibly kind - & reminded me that this appointment was the first step toward doing better for myself & my teeth.

I'll let Sandra's words wrap it up for me, on this front & overall:
"Remember: The longer you wait, the more things progress. Almost 65 million Americans have periodontal disease, & it's a progressive disease that does not typically hurt - so the longer you wait to see us, the further & faster it can progress. 
"Similarly with cavities, bone lesions, and abscesses, they do not always hurt - but the sooner we catch them, the better so we can treat them before they become a greater concern. 
"We have seen and treated a wide variety of cases, & we are not judging you. This is a specialized area of study; we care deeply & are passionate about what we do. Your health is our priority."
Are you scared of the dentist, too? Got any tips to add? 

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