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Managing Dental Anxiety

Many people are uncomfortable in the dentist’s chair, and sometimes that discomfort can lead to infrequent (and thus insufficient) dental care. If anxiety or discomfort is keeping you from seeing Dr. Halsema, try these techniques to make things a little easier.

Talk to Dr. Halsema In Advance

Before getting to the specifics, it’s important to pay attention to the timing. If you tell us that you struggle with dental anxiety as you’re getting into the chair (or, worse yet, the day after a missed appointment), providing the right accommodations without infringing on the schedules and comfort of other patients can be a challenge. Dental offices run on tight schedules!

With adequate forewarning, though, there is a lot that Dr. Halsema can do. Patient comfort is one of the key goals at Carmel West Dentistry, and Dr. Halsema always ensures that the right accommodations are made whenever possible.

In addition to providing headphones, pillows, blankets, and comfort objects (stuffed animals, etc), Dr. Halsema can arrange for additional tools to fit your needs as well. By talking to us in advance, you’ll be able to address the logistical side of managing dental anxiety. You may need a longer appointment to accommodate periodic breaks, or the office may need to allow for more preparation time in order to integrate the procedural adjustments you need.

No matter what, though, you need to have this conversation well in advance; preferably before the appointment in question is on the calendar.

Bring Your Doctor Into the Conversation

Whether your anxiety is acute, and centered on your dental experience, or generalized, coordinating with your primary care provider or your psychiatrist can give you access to anxiety management tools that we might not have. You can be prescribed oral medication or more generalized medication for pre-appointment anxiety, and your doctor can coordinate with us to make sure that the relevant information is communicated properly.

Involving your doctor in the conversation can also help you manage the social aspects that contribute to dental anxiety. Whether you’re a new patient or a longtime customer, Dr. Halsema understands that asking for accommodation can be difficult.

If you feel uncomfortable asking for more time, more or different medication, or a modified care plan for a procedure, the official support from the rest of your medical team can make a big difference. And if you’re not sure what kinds of accommodations to ask for, Dr. Halsema can work with your team to make sure your needs are properly identified.

Use Self-Management Techniques During the Appointment

On a more personal level, many anxiety management techniques can be adapted to the dentist’s chair. Whether these are techniques that you’ve learned from managing anxiety elsewhere in your life, or techniques that you’re learning now specifically for the dentist’s office,  you’ll find that the appropriateness of one technique over another will primarily depend on how you personally experience and express anxiety symptoms.

Bring Something to Fidget With

We aren’t talking about fidget spinners; this tip is based on some well-established research.

For many people, the dentist’s chair feels like a trap. They aren’t actually imprisoned, but the compromised posture, the proximity of the dentist, and the fact that they have to stay still in order to get to the end of it still creates a strong sense of confinement. This feeds into a cycle of anxiety, and can lead to longer and more stressful appointments when the right accommodations haven’t been provided.

One way to combat that is by creating an outlet for that physical anxiety that doesn’t interfere with the dental procedure. Squeezing a stress ball or manipulating an object with a unique texture can help you focus your attention on other anxiety regulating behaviors and keep you from hyperfocusing on the parts of the procedure that make you uncomfortable.

Don’t Suppress Your Anxiety; Regulate It

Trying to suppress an emotional response is like trying to not think about polar bears; suppressing it just makes it harder to control.

There is a strong link between anxiety and emotional dysregulation, and you can use many emotional self-calming and regulating techniques to handle the hard-to-pin-down sensations that accompany intense anxiety. Smooth breathing, muscle relaxation exercises, and CBT-inspired “recognise, acknowledge, process” thought patterns can fall under this umbrella.

These techniques are especially helpful post-procedure, when the fatigue that accompanies periods of acute stress typically hits. By continuing to control your physiological response to stress and with the help of verbal and mental reinforcement, you can influence how you categorize the overall experience.

Use Guided Meditation

You can bring your anxiety tools with you by listening to pre-recorded guided meditations. Guided meditation exercises can give you a strong attentional thread to hold onto, and they focus on the healthy behaviors and routines that play a strong role in anxiety management.

Talking to Dr. Halsema beforehand really is important, though. Since listening to guided meditation exercises during a procedure can create a communication barrier, you’ll have to walk through the process in detail (and set up some defined communication/check-in points) before getting started.

Dental Anxiety Isn’t Undefeatable

The most important step, of course, is to make sure that your dental anxiety doesn’t keep you from receiving care when you need it. While it will take time and ongoing coordination with Dr. Halsema to manage dental anxiety, it doesn’t have to be a fixed part of your dental care. With a bit of creativity and adequate scheduling, we can help you turn dental appointments into approachable experiences.

Anxiety isn’t unnatural, and asking for help isn’t abnormal. At Carmel West Dentistry, we’re dedicated to providing accommodations both large and small.