4 Steps to a Pain-Free Dentist Visit
Don't make excuses to put off that cleaning! Here, 4 ways to ease the agony of the drill, and stop dreading the dentist.
By Sascha Zuger
Do you keep finding excuses to put off that dental cleaning? You're in good company; half of all American adults have anxiety over going to the dentist's office, and one third refuse to go at all. But the tooth -- er, truth -- is, skipping your twice-yearly appointments could mean more than a simple cavity: Poor oral hygiene can lead to heart disease, stroke, infection, and even some cancers. Luckily, new high-tech tools, pharmaceutical options, dentist training programs, and so-called "dental spas" promise to ease the agony of the drill. Here, four steps to a (nearly) pain-free visit:
Step 1: Find a dentist you can trust.
"All dentists taught within the last eight to 10 years have received training in communication skills and handling patient anxiety," says Eugene Hittelman, Ed.D., an associate professor at the New York University College of Dentistry. But anxiety comes in many forms, and connecting with a practitioner who really understands yours is key. "Everyone is fearful of something different," says Dana Gelman Keiles, D.M.D., a dentist at Northern Westchester Dental Center in Yorktown Heights, NY. "Some people are fearful of pain; some people are fearful of the smell; for others it's the sound. You really want a doctor who listens and can read your personal cues."
So how can you tell if a dentist will accommodate you? Simple — call and ask, and don't be afraid to press the receptionist. "The way they handle your questions will give you a good idea of how well the office deals with patient phobias," says Gelman Keiles, who is part of a growing group of dentists who also hold psychology degrees so they're better trained in understanding patient concerns. "I hear so many times a day, 'Am I the worst mouth you've ever seen?'" she says. "I laugh and say, 'Yours isn't even the worst I'll see today!'"
Step 2: Come clean (and come in clean!).
As in any good relationship, honesty is the best policy. If you mention your fears up front, your dentist can work to eliminate them. Whatever you do, don't take pain relief into your own hands. "Many patients try to handle anxiety by self-medicating before an appointment," says Hittelman. They take their Xanax and Valium, or they take a drink. "That's really a mistake — now they're coming to the dentist with chemicals in their bodies. They're much better off explaining their concerns to their dentist, rather than coming in as a wild card."