According to the NHS, one in four of Britons suffer from the fear of dentistry. Fear is a crucial emotional response (you may know it as our ‘flight or fight’ reaction), that protects us from danger. It’s what saved us in the past from being eradicated by sabre toothed tigers, but as fear is an involuntary emotion, it can sometimes creep up at inconvenient times. We all know that we have to go for checkups and occasional treatment in order to prevent problems later on, but how do those of us who suffer with anxiety make our dentist visits more tolerable?
There are many ways to overcome your fear of the dentist and in this article, we are going to look at Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that changes the way we experience emotions, therefore helping us to reduce anxiety. Dr Fern White is an Australian dentist who practices mindful dentistry, she commented that,
“When confronted with fear of the dentist chair, our minds run wild by conjuring the most terrifying experiences. By staying in the present moment, we can avoid conjuring these worst case scenarios and, instead, remain in a calm and centred place.”
The whole point of mindfulness is to focus on the here and now, Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University, said, “One of the things that people need when they’re stressed is to find within themselves a place of stillness, and mindfulness through meditation practices is one of the things that can really help people by enabling then to find this stillness in the middle of a frantic world.”
Sounds logical, so how do we begin?
The first technique is to regulate your breathing:
- Breathe deeply through your nose and into the stomach area.
- Place one hand on your tummy to feel the breath move deeply.
- At the same time, relax your jaw, shoulder, head and neck muscles.
- Take time to note and feel anything that comes up while breathing.
- Be curious about any discomfort or thoughts. What do they feel like? Where do they sit in your body? Realise that they move and disappear.
- Be aware of the sensations that pass through your body whilst sitting in the chair, sense them as they appear, rather than trying to wish them away.
- Note that everything passes.
The second technique involves distraction:
- When you feel panic rising, try flexing your fingers and toes on your right hand, then alternate left and right, in a slow rhythmic pattern. Focus on the timing being exact, ensuring it is not too fast, leaving at least 2 seconds between flexes.
The great thing about both techniques is that they are 100% discreet, you could practice in the waiting room and no-one else would know what you were doing.
With thanks to ‘The New York Times’ and ‘NHS’ websites for content.