Nothing to fear but fear itself – Advice for nervous patients

 

 

As a dental nurse, part of my everyday life is to help people who are nervous. Unfortunately, like death and taxes, dental work is certain in our everyday lives. For some people, the thought of walking into a dental practice would be as unthinkable as building a rocket to the moon. Pain however, will get the best of all of us, and we often see weary faces enter the clinic doors, patients suffering some pain or discomfort.

Faced with the task of removing that discomfort, I have had to learn to think outside the box in many situations. A smiling face and scented candle can only take you so far. So low and behold, please find below the best advice I can offer to those of you who lie awake for days if not weeks dreading coming to see me and experience my cheery disposition.

Number one, don’t think about it.

This sounds easier said than done, but, if most people could train their minds to not think about the dentist as much as they can train their minds to ignore the reoccurring tooth pain they have had on and off for several years, you will find anything is possible when you really try.

When we focus our attention on all of the negative aspects of coming to the dentist, the noisy drills, the clinical smell, the numb lip, it can strike fear in hearts of the bravest of people.

Therefore, the most simple and straightforward advice I can give you is to simply not think about it.

Do not analyse it. Do not talk to everyone you know about your upcoming appointment this Tuesday at 1:15. Do not think of the million treatments you will have to get done and how you are sure as soon as you sit in the dental chair all of your teeth will magically begin to fall out.  Schedule the appointment and forget about it. Simple.

Number two, don’t forget to breathe. People look at me strangely when I say this to them, but you will be surprised just how many people manage to hold their breath as soon as they enter the clinic until they leave. So much so, they could give an olympic swimmer a run for their money.

When we are faced with a scary situation, our body’s reaction is to release adrenaline in preparation for a life threatening event. In previous times, this is what allowed us to kill woolly mammoths and survive. Dentists however aren’t going to murder you, even if you are convinced they are secretly plotting to do so.

This adrenaline, races through our bodies, it makes us become tense, on high alert, listening to every small noise. It also makes us forget to breathe, and therefore the panic lasts longer becoming a vicious circle.

If we try to relax (even if it feels against our best judgement) and take some deep breaths, the effects of the adrenaline will begin to wear away. This in turn, believe it or not will allow the body – muscles, joints, nervous system to relax.

From experience, I understand asking you to participate in an impromtu yoga class while sitting in a waiting room doesn’t sound extremely appealing, but I can promise you that when your body is more relaxed the injections are easier.

People who love coming to the dentist ( they are a rare species) will back me up on this, they take them in their stride.

Number three, eat breakfast always.

As one of my favourite writers, Laura Jane Williams says; you would never send a child into school without a good nights sleep and a decent breakfast to get them through their day, so why would you treat yourself any different?

As adults, we become so occupied with how busy we are, that we forget to be kind to ourselves. If you have been dreading the dentist for several weeks and arrive to the practice tired, stressed and a bundle of nerves I can assure you the experience will seem one hundred times worse on an empty stomach.

Therefore, I cannot recommend highly enough to eat something before leaving your house, it can be ice-cream if it makes you happy, but I will promise you, fainting in the dental chair due to low blood sugar is not something you want to add to your list of to-dos nor mine. The other patients will not thank you for the delay in their busy schedules.

Number four, if all else fails, ask about sedation.

Sedation is the magical wand that can wipe away the most dental phobic of all dental phobias.

No, you are not “knocked out” as people would usually request, but you are very very sleepy.

The majority of the time you will not remember anything after drinking the sedation, but you will wake up happy knowing the dreaded dental visit has come and gone while you were blissfully sleeping, kind of like an adult version of Santa Claus.

The downside to this is you cannot be trusted for the rest of the day. You must have an chaperone to bring you home, tuck you in and make you dinner. No emails, no cooking, no school run and no, no excuses or exceptions. That’s the trade, abide by the rules. But for the most terrified of humans it is the saving grace of their oral health and also makes us dental people’s lives that tiny bit easier.

We don’t enjoy going home at the end of the day feeling like we have worried or upset people.

We are human too. So, if numbers one, two and three have all failed ask your dentist or nurse about number four. If they don’t offer sedation, ask them to refer you to someone who does.

Make your life easy, it is worth it, I promise.

Chelsey Mates

RDN TCD