How to Prepare for the Dentist if You Haven’t Been in Forever

How to Prepare for the Dentist if You Haven’t Been in Forever

Despite the time-honoured wisdom that we should visit a dentist for a checkup and cleaning every six months, many of us just … don’t. According to the CDC, around 35 per cent of Americans have not visited the dentist in the last year. If it’s been a long while for you, and you’re planning to get back in the dentist chair, congratulations: You’re making the right decision for your health, self-esteem, and eating power.

“The first step is making an appointment,” Dr. Ruchi Sahota, the American Dental Association’s consumer advisor spokesperson and a family dentist, told me. “pick up the phone or go online. Click the ‘make an appointment.’ Because you have to get into the office so that you can at least find out what your options are.”

Once you’ve made that appointment, here’s what to expect and how to prepare for your dentist visit.

What information should you bring to the dentist?

According to Dr. Sahota, if you’re returning to the dentist after a long time away, you should let the doctor know what kind of toothbrush and toothpaste you’re using, and what tool you’re using to clean between your teeth too. You should also come prepared to discuss non-tooth-related health issues.

“It’s important to know what what kind of medicines you’re taking and what kind of things you’re seeing your physician for,” Dr. Sahota said. “Because remember, dentists are doctors of the mouth and head. And there are many issues that can be happening in the rest of your body that you can see a sign of inside your mouth. There’s links to diabetes, cardiac issues—there’s a long list of issues that have a link to poor dental health.”

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

If you’re returning to a dentist after a long absence, you’ll no doubt have questions and concerns to discuss with your dentist. To make sure you don’t forget anything, take notes. “Going back to any kind of a doctor after a long time can be overwhelming,” Dr. Sahota explained. “So a great routine to have is to write down any questions you might have for them.”

Arrive early to your appointment to fill out paperwork

Remember to arrive 15 to 30 minutes early to your appointment to fill out paperwork. If you’re a new patient, figuring out insurance and completing the initial paperwork can take time, and even if it’s a dentist you’ve been to before, you might need to update your existing file.

“You can also ask them if they can email you the paperwork or if you can do it online,” Dr. Sahota suggests. “That way, there’s less time that you’re sitting in the waiting room, thinking about what’s going to happen.”

If you’re anxious, make sure you inform your dentist and their staff

Dental anxiety is common: About 36 per cent of people in the U.S. say they have a fear dental treatment, and 12 per cent say they have an extreme fear. If that’s you, let the dental office know so they can help you manage it. “It is so, so, so important to make sure you speak up,” Dr. Sahota said. “If you’re anxious, talk about it. Let the staff know … It will help the hygienist in the office, it will help the dental assistants in the office, and it will help dentists know how to treat your needs.”

There are any number of techniques to help people deal with dental anxiety, from anti-anxiety medication like Xanax, or Ativan, to a warm blanket and a set of headphones playing classical music. You and your dentist can work out what might be effective for you. “It’s helpful to talk to your dentist, to have that ongoing relationship, so that the dentist can make sure she knows how to manage your fears,” Dr. Sahota said. “A thing that I do for anxious patients—actually all my patients—is I ask them to give me a thumbs up if they’re okay. And I’ll ask them throughout the procedure. That helps me know that they are okay, and also helps them know that I’m checking in on them, and I am seeing the person behind the teeth.”

What to do if you’re ashamed of going to the dentist

For some people, dental avoidance is about shame, not fear. If it’s been a couple decades since you flossed, and your mouth looks like a crime scene, it’s easy to worry about what the dentist will think. But don’t. No matter how bad it is, they’ve seen worse.

“Dentistry, to me, is like a math problem. I love trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together and trying to solve the problems for the patients that I see,” Dr. Sahota said. “Sometimes those problems are simple, and sometimes they’re more complex. But as long as I get to help people with their problem, it’s a good day in the office.”

Be prepared to schedule a follow-up appointment

When the appointment ends and the hygenist is handing over your free floss, hopefully you’re thinking, “That wasn’t as bad as I expected,” but before you pat yourself on the back, there’s one thing you still have to do: Make a follow-up appointment. Don’t wait to schedule it until later. Make it right there.

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