If you avoid going to the dentist until the last possible minute (show of hands?) you’re not alone. Many of us can relate to that specific strain of anxiety that occurs before getting our teeth checked out — which is why so many of us leave too much space between appointments. Here, Dr Reuben Sim, co-founder of Melbourne-based dental practice, Dental Boutique, has some advice to help you get — and stay in — the chair.
1. Using Relaxation Techniques
There are a few simple relaxation techniques that you can use. The most common one is practising controlled breathing. It relaxes your body and shifts your focus to other things in order to preoccupy your mind. The simplest breathing techniques involve inhaling and exhaling through your nose to a slow count of up to three — so three seconds of breathing in, followed by three seconds breathing out. Remember slow and deep breaths, not short and fast as this can cause you to hyperventilate. Alternatively, listen to music during your appointment can help relax you and enable you to zone out. Different distraction and relaxation techniques work for each individual, so find out what works well for you.
2. Establish a Fail-Safe Signal with your Dentist
By establishing a fail-safe signal with your dentist allows you to maintain control during the treatment. This alerts the dentist if you’re feeling discomfort or pain or need to take a break during the appointment. The non-verbal signal can be as simple as raising your hand. You can build up trust with a new dentist by using this signal to test them and ensure that they will actually stop a procedure if you are feeling uncomfortable. Another useful strategy is to talk with your dentist first, determine the likely length of the treatment and have a mutual agreement of taking breaks at fixed intervals, e.g. five minutes. This method doesn’t let you suffer in silence if you’re afraid to interrupt the dentist or worry that you are disturbing them at an inconvenient moment.
3. Needle-less and Minimal Discomfort Injections Technology
Advancements in technology have allowed dentists to provide patients with the ideal and alternative situation for anyone who doesn’t like needles or the effects of long lasting numbness after local anaesthesia. The needle-less solution is made of small, lightweight, spring-operated device that delivers anaesthetic into the gum as an extremely fine jet of liquid in a fraction of a second. There is no part of the device that penetrates the skin, making it minimal discomfort. Another technology we commonly use is a computer-controlled dental injection where the flow rate of the anaesthetic is controlled by the computer. This means that the injection is guaranteed to be steady and therefore, comfortable. It is also known as the single tooth anaesthesia, which allows only the specific tooth to be numb, reducing the sensation of facial numbness.
4. Regular Dentist Appointments
Try to visit the dentist regularly for simple treatments, such as cleaning. A consistent routine will help you be familiarised with the general process of treatments. The more you go to the dentist, the easier it will be to build trust and rapport with them, should you decide to go ahead with more complex treatments in the future. It will also avoid larger dental problems that may result in costly and difficult procedures later on.
5. Bring a Friend
By bringing a friend to your appointment, this will help relax and distract you from your worries and apprehensions in the waiting room. They can offer additional support to the practice team and inform them of any concerns you may have. It’s important to bring someone along that you trust and is not fearful of the dentist themselves. They could even sit in during your appointment to keep you company during your treatment. Where possible, it also helps to schedule appointments in the morning so you won’t dwell on and worry about dental appointments throughout the day.
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