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Does the thought of going to the dentist make you tense, worried, or even panic? It’s OK.  Fear of going to the dentist – or dental anxiety – is common.

The American Psychological Association reports that as many as half of Americans experience anxiety about the dentist. There are many reasons for it – pain you experienced years ago, worry the dentist will judge you, or fear of what problems the dentist may find.

But don’t let dental anxiety stop you from going. Regular dental visits and good oral health habits will prevent most of those worries from ever coming true.

The dentist’s office can have sights, sounds, and smells that may make you want to avoid an appointment. Before you cancel, here are five tips to ease your five senses into your next dental visit:

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TALK TO YOUR DENTAL TEAM

If you choose one thing to take away from this article, take this advice. Talk to the hygienist and the dentist before your appointment begins and before you’re in the dentist’s chair. You’re welcome to call by phone before the appointment, too. Let the dental office know what worries you or what makes you uncomfortable in any way. Be as specific as you can.

The dental staff can do a variety of things to make your experience positive. Dental procedures have advanced greatly and many options are available for pain and anxiety. You can discuss hand signals with your dentist and decide what means “stop” when you want the work to stop for any reason.

Additional requests to consider should revolve around what makes you feel anxious. If the pre-appointment anticipation in the waiting room makes you bite your nails, ask them to give you a call when they’re ready for you. Waiting in your car or at the coffee shop next door will help you keep your mind occupied with other things.

SOUNDS THAT SOOTHE

Music and white noise can sooth and distract.

Many offices have sound systems that play music in the treatment room.  Even if they already have music, feel free to bring your own! Pack your headphones and audio player so you can play your happy playlist, catch up on a podcast, or focus on meditation and white noise.

Keep in mind that opting to use a speaker over headphones makes it easier to communicate with the dentist during the appointment. Work out a hand signal or other form of the communication so that the dental team can get your attention.

SMELLS TO SOOTHE

Aromatherapy is a great way to transport yourself out of the dentist chair, while still getting your bi-annual cleanings. Lavender’s scent has been proven to have an anxiety-reducing effect.

Dab some on your wrists, apply it to a handkerchief or cardstock, or bring the bottle along to your appointment. Hold it under your nose when you start feeling butterflies in your stomach.

PHYSICAL COMFORTS

It’s important to be physically comfortable during your appointment. Wear your comfort clothes – usually soft and loose fitting – if you can.

Weighted blankets are commonly used for children and pets to reduce anxiety, and they’re effective for adults, too! Aimed at being a “wellness” product, 63% of adults in this study report lower anxiety after use.  So, ask the dental staff if you can keep the lead lined x-ray apron on a little longer.

LIMIT UNFAMILIAR SIGHTS

If the sight of a needle of other equipment makes your heart race, tell the dental staff! It’s OK to call beforehand to remind the staff that you don’t like seeing needles or other equipment in the tray. Simply laying a cloth over the dental tools to avoid seeing them can reduce anxiety. Or you can even opt to cover your eyes with a sleep mask.

Dealing with dental anxiety involves becoming familiar with your dentist, their office, and also your own needs. Communication is key when you have a fear of going to the dentist. If fear or anxiety about the dentist has kept you from finding one, take a moment to browse dentists in our network.

For more information on overcoming a fear of going to the dentist, read our other blog articles on being fear free: