Today is National Dentist’s Day. If there is a negative association with the work dentist for you, I can totally relate!

Going to the dentist was one of those “normal” things that seemed like a monumental challenge while I was dealing with chronic health issues, anxiety, and benzodiazepine withdrawal. I also had past experiences at the dentist as a child that had imprinted my limbic system so that I exhibited the flight response (fear + avoidance) when it came time to tend to my dental health.

As I built up skills through brain retraining, I experienced greater capacity to face my fears and reclaim my power. I had several opportunities to test my resilience when I needed to have some dental procedures done in the midst of trying to rebalance my nervous system. I believe the opportunities served as a great way for me to utilize my new tools and rewrite my history of negative experiences at the dentist. I actually reached a place where I could access and harvest joy while at the office, because I trained my thoughts and focus to be supportive to my health and wellness. I wouldn’t consider it one of my favorite places to visit, but I think brain retraining has helped alleviate the anxiety and other concerns I would experience when going to the dentist.

If you find yourself avoiding the dentist or scheduling a dental appointment for similar reasons, I’d like to quickly share 5 tips that have been helpful for me so I could lift that layer of fear or anxiety from tending to my oral health.

1. Communicate

your concerns with your dentist

If you have any concerns about your visit, it can be helpful to voice them to the receptionist, staff, and your dentist directly, so that you can work together in a supportive way.

If you have any questions, ask them in advance of the appointment so that you can better prepare.

One thing that was personally helpful for me was to know I had an “out” or way to communicate during. If I raised my hand, my dentist would pause and check in with me.

2. Desensitize the Experience

for yourself ahead of time

If just the idea of getting to the office is uncomfortable, practice going to the parking lot of the dental office and meditating or doing laughter yoga while in the car in the days leading up to the appointment to create a more supportive association.

If being reclined in the exam chair seems intimidating, practice lounging in a reclined beach chair, a reclined chair at the movie theater, or other more pleasant experiences to help balance any negative association.

3. Support Yourself

as you might a friend or a child

If your brain is trying to negatively predict how the visit will go, remember those thoughts fuel stress hormones into the body which can facilitate a continued cycle of anxiety.

Shifting those thoughts into supportive inner dialogue that speaks to your strengths, resilience, courage, or ability to take on challenges can help to lessen that critical or fearful voice.

What’s more effective is adding feeling to the mix. If you can recall specific past examples that qualify your strengths and bring up those feelings in the present, your neuro-chemistry will also shift to supportive chemistry to help calm the anxieties.

4. Stay in the Present

and separate from the past

If negative imprinting from a previous experience is coming up in the present, ground in what separates now from then.

What did you learn from that experience that can be applied or used to change the present?

What tools/techniques or forms of support are available to you now that maybe were not available then?

Look back to the other tips for additional support or reinforcement, such as communicating with your dentist, managing your thoughts, and practicing challenging aspects ahead of time.

5. Find a Focal Point

to ground in the present

Does the dental office have artwork on the walls, a window to look out from, or some sort of other decorative element in the space that might offer a mental retreat during the examination process?Sometimes offices will have background music playing that you can also focus on.

If such an opportunity doesn’t exist, can you bring your own supportive element, such as a favorite piece of jewelry, a favorite item of clothing, or other accessory that can serve as a focal point if you need to ground or distract?

Another option is to close your eyes and use your imagination to construct something more pleasant to retreat to mentally.

If you find these tips helpful or have your own strategies you’d like to share, I’d love your feedback in the comments. 

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