Who knew that in addition to the pandemic taking place, 2020 would be the year I’d be facing a dental anxiety challenge? I’m writing this ahead of when it will be posted, so who knows what the world will look like by the time anyone reads it?
Sure, I knew that day was coming, and I had been putting it off for as long as I could avoid it. Unfortunately, a cracked tooth brought me excruciating pain. No manner of over-the-counter pain relievers or ice or any new-age treatment tricks worked. As the days continued, the pain increased.
How Bad Is My Dental Anxiety?
Now, one thing you need to know about me is how bad my dental anxiety is. Yes, I know many people struggle with some anxiety when going to the dentist. In this case, though, my dental anxiety is through the roof!
Even to book an appointment, my anxiety increases a thousand times. It is like I’m paralyzed in fear of even calling a dentist. My mind kicks into high gear the moment I start thinking about making the appointment, and it keeps the foot on the gas. It does not let up.
Even with the pain I was experiencing, dental anxiety was still too much of a match for me. With the help of my partner, I was able to see a dentist that I trusted. It took me a while to find this dentist, but she is compassionate, caring, and I feel as if she is in my corner, taking care of me in the best possible way. That’s so important in dealing with my dental anxiety.
I remember finally getting into her office that day. She took one look at me and realized that without some sedation, no treatment was going to happen. While I’m not too fond of sedation because I feel out of control, it is the only way she can work on me.
Over the next several months, I went through extensive work to get things corrected. None of these months was easy, but with the pandemic, I was doing little else in my day. The timing could not have been more perfect.
I know I had been severely traumatized in the past, and those experiences kick the dental anxiety into overdrive. I hate it. It is so exhausting for me to deal with, and it just knocks me out. Each time I would go in for another procedure, it felt like I lost a week of my life between the anxiety and recovery.
My Dental Anxiety Symptoms
My symptoms of dental anxiety include the following things, but are not limited to only these items.
I noticed just how angry it made me leading up to the procedure and then in the following days. This anger wasn’t directed at anyone or anything, but generalized anger at everything. It would show up in angry outbursts or emotional sulking. It would show up in having little patience for the slightest thing that goes wrong. I noticed at least a day before the procedures that the anger from the dental anxiety would be kicking into high gear.
Another thing I noticed is I would get depressed, and I mean very depressed from my dental anxiety. A few times, I felt like I wanted to end everything. My poor partner and husband understood, but I know I put him through hell with the emotional upheaval and fear. I’m so glad he was there for me and understands, because without him I don’t think I would have made it.
In addition to the emotional side of things, I felt so much shame from dental anxiety. Some of the shame was triggers to past abuse that I dealt with like I describe in my book. Some of the shame was feeling like a failure, since I could not make it into the dentist’s office without sedation and assistance. I felt weak and inferior. I felt like a little baby that couldn’t handle something the way most other people can. Maybe most people would say that all of this is not as big of a mountain as I made it out to be, but tell that to the anxiety that is a big loud mouth in my brain.
Body Tension and Mental Fog
Another thing that I noticed is that my body would tense up from my neck, face, and shoulder muscles to my digestive system. My mind would get foggy, and I had difficulty focusing. Creativity and writing came to a stop during these months. It doesn’t surprise me that my body suffered somatically because when you deal with difficult stress and triggers, the energy finds its home in the mind body. Dental anxiety is a major stressor for me, and my body proved how true that is.
Sleep disturbance was another symptom of my dental anxiety. Usually, leading up to the procedure, I wouldn’t sleep. It felt like my mind was so nervous that it would not let me fall or stay asleep. After the procedure, the sedation would knock me out, and when I would wake up, it would be time to go to bed. My sleep cycle clock would be so thrown off that my body didn’t know if it was time to be awake or go to sleep. It would take several days before that would begin to balance out.
Mouth And Facial Tension
Of course, one of the things I became acutely aware of was mouth tension. Normally I’m in touch with my mind body, and I can tell when I have tension. However, with dental anxiety, it is almost as if some of this is hidden from conscious awareness.
It was when I would wake up in the morning that I would become extremely aware of just how much tension I held in my jaw and face. I am intrigued by how trauma, triggers, and stressful situations impact the body. The dental procedures were no exception. Most of the time, I don’t think we are as aware of these moments as we think we are. While that is understandable, it is hurtful to our physical mind body connection.
How I Dealt With My Dental Anxiety
While I felt like a runaway train when dealing with dental anxiety and its symptoms, I knew that communication would help the dentist and those around me. Maybe I didn’t communicate as well as I think I did, but I tried. Sometimes, I would jot down notes or questions I had so my husband could ask the dentist. When you are stressed and triggered, communication is not easy.
Tried To Give Myself A Break
Giving myself a break is difficult for me to do. I expect myself to be able to handle anything. I expect myself to be perfect. Yes, I know that must sound crazy, but it is the thing that I unconsciously and automatically do. While I try not to do it, I would be kidding myself if I thought I didn’t beat myself up. However, I kept trying to give myself a break through the dental anxiety (and most likely failing more often than I realize). Being out of control is not easy, but the more we try to control everything, the more we will lose control.
Realized There Was An Endpoint
In the beginning, the dentist worked with me, and we developed a treatment plan of what procedures needed to be performed. It helped me so much because it felt more in control than being at the mercy of whatever procedure came next. It is one of the parts that helped in keeping dental anxiety under control.
Without this part, I would have been more of a basket case because it would have felt like there was no endpoint. The way we did this, I knew that at a point this would be over. With anxiety, if you can’t see the end of the tunnel, you get more afraid the end will never show up, which makes it so much harder.
Focused on Deep Breathing Relaxation
One of the tools I know to use to help with anxiety is autonomic breathing. There are many ways to do this, but through Unified Therapy with Dr. Paul Canali, I have practiced this many times. However, during great stress and triggers, we often forget how to use the tools that can help us. In this respect, I used the Resperate to help me achieve a greater degree of autonomic breathing. It helped push me when I wasn’t as easily able to do this on my own. It made the dental anxiety a little less, and in those moments, a little less is a big thing!
Ipod and Headphones
When I go for a dental visit, I always take my iPod and headphones with me. I’ve got a long playlist of music that is on continuous repeat. It helps drown out some of the sounds, and together with the sedation, it makes for a more peaceful time. If others are working on patients around me, the stress of dental anxiety amplifies those sounds. The headphones help diminish those exterior sounds.
Sensitivity To Bright lights
I am very sensitive to bright lights. The overhead light that a dentist uses to work on a patient can be very triggering and stressful for me. It pushes my dental anxiety up several degrees. One of the things that my dentist has used to help me with this is a very light cloth over my eyes, or I can wear a pair of sunglasses. In the same way that anxiety amplifies sound during these triggering moments, light is the same way. If I can minimize it, the stress of the moment is reduced dramatically.
Today’s Status On Dental Work
I’m doing much better than I was several months ago, but am still working through the treatment plan. There are adjustments that I am making, and in many ways, it feels like I have a whole new mouth. Well, actually, I almost do!
With the support of my husband, a compassionate dentist, and a caring dental hygienist, I was able to make it through dental anxiety.
Will all of these things make the dental anxiety go away? Most likely, they will not. If you’re like me, the anxiety will show up. However, these are some of the things that I use to help manage it so I can do the corrective work I need to do.
I wish it was easier for me to see a dentist. I wonder if it will ever be easy to deal with dental anxiety. Maybe it will be, and perhaps it won’t, but I know I’ve got some tools that help immensely.