Alternative Therapies for Dental Anxiety
For some people, anxiety can loom as large as concerns about pain. Hypnosis, guided imagery, relaxation exercises, and counseling can ease anxiety and fear. For people who don’t have dental anxiety but can’t tolerate pain medication, these approaches also can help with pain control. In either case, you should discuss your concerns with your dentist.
A few of the most popular techniques are briefly described here. To learn more, you may want to enroll in a stress management program or check your library or bookstore for books on stress management techniques.
Try visualizing a pleasant, restful setting. Concentrate on sensory details—for example, the warmth of the sand, the gentle sound of water lapping against a shore, the bright blue of the sky. Allow yourself to be transported into the image you’ve created. Breathe deeply and slowly as you imagine this place. If other thoughts intrude, accept them and then try to return to the haven you’ve created. Practice guided imagery a few times before your next dental appointment, as practice makes it easier to conjure up a soothing scene.
Relaxation techniques such as breath focus, body scan, and mindfulness meditation can slow your heart rate and bring about a state of restfulness. You may want to explore different methods to see which works best for you. In the meantime, here are two simple relaxation exercises to try.
Make yourself as comfortable as possible in the dental chair. With your eyes closed and your muscles relaxed, breathe in slowly and deeply. Choose a focus word such as “calm” or “peace” to repeat mentally as you exhale. Keep your mind as clear as possible. If thoughts intrude, return your concentration to your breathing and focus word.
Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in. Pause for a count of three. Breathe out. Pause for a count of three. Continue to breathe this way for several minutes.
For many people, hypnosis can take the place of all other forms of pain control during dental procedures. It can be used successfully in people who can’t tolerate anesthesia because of health issues, as well as those who are afraid of the needles that deliver medication. Self-hypnosis may be a practical approach; a professional hypnotherapist can teach you the steps to follow.
Source: Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums. Copyright © by Harvard University. All rights reserved.