Nobody likes going to the dentist. Well, OK, that’s not true. At least one person who shall remain nameless (Lifehacker Managing Editor Virginia Smith) says she relishes the experience.
“I find the scraping, etc., perversely satisfying?” she says. “And I just love having them get to a level of dentist-clean. It’s a little like when you’re a kid and have a loose tooth and like to twist it, I guess.”
I admit that I, too, like the way my teeth feel after a professional scrape ‘n’ scrub. And although I wouldn’t classify myself as “afraid” of the dentist — despite a rather traumatic wisdom tooth experience as a teenager that I won’t get into . —I do find my hands getting a little clenchy throughout the process.
If you are the opposite of Virginia, you are not alone. Dentophobia — yes, fear of the dentist — runs rampant through our society.
However, scared or not, you really do need to go to the dentist now and then to check for cavities and other issues, even if you can’t bring yourself to do it every 6 months.
Find the right fit
If you don’t yet have a dentist you can tolerate, ask family and friends for recommendations. Almost more important than the dentist you choose is the hygienist, as that person will be doing most of the grunt work. I’ve had hygienists who are ... not gentle ... and I’ve had hygienists who barely touched my teeth at all. Find someone who is known for their gentle hand.
If you can’t get a solid personal recommendation, call the receptionist and ask which hygienist kids like the best. That’s the one you want.
Timing is everything
If you’re likely to stew on your upcoming appointment, schedule it for early in the day. You’ll have less time for the anticipation-stress to build and will be less likely to cancel. Plus, the earlier the appointment, the less likely that patients will be backed in the waiting room, so you’ll get in and out more quickly.
If it’s been a while since your last check-up, you’ll want to arrive early enough to fill out forms, and of course, bring any applicable insurance cards with you. But also make sure to write down any questions you have about that one extra sensitive tooth or the way you’ve been grinding your teeth at night. Your day-of nerves might cause you to forget everything you wanted to ask, so it helps to come armed with a written reminder.
If at all possible, bring a friend or loved one with you. Even if they’re simply there to sit with you in the waiting room, you’ll feel better having someone there to pat your back and say, “Honestly, it’s not that bad; you’ve got this!”
If you can’t bring support in the form of a person, bring something you can squeeze or fidget with. Stress balls are particularly helpful and will give you something other than the arms of the dental chair to grip.
Say you’re scared
If you’re nervous/scared/completely terrified, say it early and say it often. Tell the receptionist when you call to make the appointment and remind her of it when you arrive. Tell your hygienist before she gets started and go ahead and say it one last time when the dentist comes in to check on you.
These folks are very used to caring for patients who 100 per cent do NOT want to be there. If they know you’re uneasy, they’re likely to be a little more gentle in their approach and can maybe find a few shortcuts to 1. make sure your teeth aren’t rotting out of your head and 2. get you on your way home.
Drown out the noise
With all the advances in technology over our lifetime, I cannot fathom why dental tools still are made to sound like torture devices. That high-pitched whirring of the polisher and whooshing of the spit-sucker is the stuff of nightmares. (OK, I’m not helping.)
Apparently, we’re stuck with these awful sounds ringing in our ears from now until forever, so your best bet is to drown it out. Bring along a pair of earbuds, plug them into your phone and blast your favourite soothing sounds.
Mozart, perhaps, or the latest and greatest true crime podcast (To Live and Die in L.A. is my current favourite, but I digress). Tune into whatever will distract you from the cacophony of drill-like screeches happening around your face.
When your appointment comes to its merciful conclusion, make your next appointment on the spot. This is a good idea for a couple of reasons.
Many dentists — much like dermatologists — get booked up with regular appointments WAY in advance, so it’s best to claim your spot. But more importantly, you won’t have to agonise in six months about whether to do this all over again; the decision will have already been made.
And if you liked your hygienist, make sure to request an appointment with the same one for next time.