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Tips For Dentist Office Triggers And Anxiety

Tips For Dentist Office TriggersFor those people that can walk into a dentist office and not be overtaken by anxiety, I’m very happy for you.  However, I am one of those people that anxiety goes higher than the tallest building in the world.  Usually the anxiety begins before I have to make an appointment to see the dentist and escalates as it nears the appointment.  I wish it wasn’t that way and no matter what, it seems almost impossible for me to get past this issue (even with all the healing trauma release work I’ve done on myself).

Last week was another episode of trying to go to the dentist without passing out, getting hysterical, or shaking and trembling to death.  While this may sound like an overstatement, I can assure you it is not.  It was all I could do to make it in the door without my feet giving out and the lights going dim.  If you want to read more about the account of me at the dentist, read Vulnerability At The Dentist Office.

In order to help myself and others who may experience this situation, here are some tips for both the dentists and the patients when going to the dentist.  I’m sure there are many other things that work and please feel free to add them as a comment.  I doubt I have all the answers to this problem.  I realize I am a very highly sensitive person and so little things to most people are quite big to me.  The smallest touch or sound or sensation and even the tiniest of thoughts can be overwhelming for my body.

Tips For The Dentist

  1. Establish a rapport with the patient and let them know you are safe, compassionate and caring with everything that happens in your office.  Even if you have established that before, you may need to re-establish this with the patient each time they visit.  Without the patient feeling totally safe, the fear and anxiety level rises exponentially.  What seems to be a minute part of your day could make all the difference to the patient.
  2. Be careful in what you say to the patient while understanding that in a high anxious state, the little things can have significant and profound impacts upon their state of mind.  Think about it as someone being chased in the woods by a tiger and all of the sudden they step on a twig that snaps.  While the sound may be almost undetectable;  to the person running from the tiger, it may be life threatening.  In an anxious moment in the dentist office, the person is running from the tiger.
  3. Use caution in how much you share with the patient.  Often in an anxious state, the information may be vital to share, but it could literally be too much and cause the patient to go past the point of no return.  Giving it to them in small dosages and really understanding what they need to hear and know is important.  Sometimes seeing x-rays up close is not the best things for a person suffering from intense anxiety.
  4. Learn how to work with patients to get them to breathe and do deep relaxation so that you can help them calm some of their own anxiety.  Often in the middle of anxiety and fear, breathing is the part that humans forget.  Making a point to engage the patient in breathing helps them know you have their best interest at heart, and it helps the person find the calming center within them.  While I realize you may want to hurry a procedure along to maximize your day, it is far better to take little breathing rest breaks and gain the confidence of the patient.  Otherwise, you have the patient running from the tiger the entire time they are in the chair.
  5. When a treatment plan is introduced, keep things simple and give the patient options.  Overwhelming them with an astronomical bill is just asking to push them over the edge.  The fear is so great during this time that anything such as financial difficulties is going to make them feel like there is too much to handle.  Maybe even getting them out of the dentist chair and into a more safe area such as an office would give them a way to focus on what treatment solution is best, without being overwhelmed.
  6. Realize that no matter what you do, the patient is going to react in a way that is difficult to deal with.  Be reassuring in all that you do and let the patient verbally know you support them.  Don’t let the patient guess that you care or your support them because in these times, a few gentle words from the dentist or person working on them is worth more than gold.
  7. On the first visit, it may be best to not do to much or push the patient too far.  Allow them to set the pace of the visit.  Give them a chance to have a positive experience that doesn’t last too long, while allow them to exit the building and return to a more normal state of calmness.
  8. If a patient begins crying, do not say, “Don’t Cry” because this may be the only way the patient knows in helping to let the stress of the moment escape.  It may be the cleansing, readjusting part of the nervous system that allows the anxiety to come down.  You may struggle with someone crying, but in a situation like this, it is best to be supportive, caring and compassionate.  A hands off, tough guy approach will do little to help the anxious patient.
  9. Realize that if someone has been through trauma at a previous dentist or been sexually abused as a child, putting your fingers or other instruments in their mouth is very triggering.  Sexual abuse is a very big trigger for patients especially when at the dentists.  Honor and respect that or otherwise, you will most likely be re-traumatizing the patient all over again.
  10. Highly sensitive people and those that are anxious in a dentist office may be very sensitive to the bright light dentists use to work on the patient.  Inquire if the patient needs a light towel or cloth over their eyes to help shield the light.  Intense bright light can be excruciatingly painful and triggering to patients.  It can be very calming to just have a light cloth over their eyes to shield the light.


Tips For The Patient

  1. When you call to make an initial appointment with the dentist, ask them if they are trained to deal with trauma survivors or child abuse survivors especially if that fits your life.  You may want to discuss with them how they deal with anxious patients and let them know of your own struggles and difficulties.
  2. Make sure you take a friend with you that you trust and that can drive you there.  It takes the pressure off of having to get yourself physically there and finding the office, as well as giving you the option of someone taking you home should the anxiety get the best of you.
  3. If you need it, insist that the dentist office allow your friend to stay with you during your visit, provided your friend is okay with this.  You may need to inquire about this before you make an appointment and if the dentist is  not accommodating, look to one that is.
  4. When you arrive for your appointment, let the staff know about your own struggles and difficulties with anxiety and communicate with them and your friend as far as what you need.  You have to speak up for yourself because often times they do not understand traumatized people and what is helpful or what is not.
  5. Take an iPod with you and listen to music that helps calm you.  This takes your mind off of the procedures being done and helps you reduce the anxiety you may feel.
  6. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you have had enough done today and you will have to reschedule a follow up visit to complete additional work.  Trying to do to much at once is not always beneficial, but you will have to be the judge of that and communicate it effectively or have your friend help communicate that.
  7. Practice deep breathing.  It is something that you should be working on and learning if you struggle with anxiety, but the dentist office is a place where you can really use it.
  8. Ask and remind the dentist and staff to give you little breaks where you can stop and catch your breath.
  9. Realize that most dentists know what they are doing and the procedure will be over in a reasonable amount of time.  If gives you an end point to think about rather than what is happening in the moment.
  10. Give yourself time to rest after any dentist visit and then give yourself some small token of a reward.  Honor yourself by realizing that you made it through this procedure and nothing terrible happened.  Help build up the positive neural pathways instead of giving in to the nightmare of terror.


For people who struggle with anxiety and fear from going to the dentist, it may never be a perfect situation.  In fact, it may be a frightening experience every time.  However, if the patient, the dentist and their staff can work together for a positive experience, a person’s life could likely be changed in a dramatic way.  Sometimes dentists and their staff forget that patients like this need a little extra attention and care.  Not everyone coming into your office is going to be this way and not everyone is going to zip through with fabulous results.

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