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If you ever get nervous just thinking about going to the dentist, you are not alone. An estimated 30 to 40 million people in the United States, avoid seeing the dentist because of anxiety and fear. Not seeing a dentist affects your dental health and overall medical health. It can lead to serious infections that may become life threatening. Here are 3 strategies to use at your next dental appointment to help ease your anxiety and strengthen your smile.

1. Speak up
• Tell your dentist about your anxiety. When you book your appointment, tell the receptionist that you are nervous or anxious about going to the dentist. Remind the dentist and dental staff about your anxiety when you arrive. Share with them any bad experiences you may have had in the past, and ask for suggestions on coping strategies.
• Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes knowing what is going to happen helps alleviate any fears of the unknown.
• Agree on a signal. Let your dentist know by raising your hand if you need to take a break from any procedure.
• If you experience pain even with a local anesthetic, tell your dentist. Do not be embarrassed about your pain tolerance. Talk with your dentist about your pain before it starts so your dentist knows how to communicate with you and make it more comfortable.

2. Distract yourself
• Wear headphones. If the sound of the drill bothers you, we provide headphones so you can listen to your favorite music or watch movies and television shows on Netflix.
• Occupy your hands by squeezing a stress ball.
• Imagine your happy place and visualize yourself at a relaxing beach or garden. Our office provides sky panels with scenery for patients to look at.

3. Use mindfulness techniques
• Try deep breathing exercises to help relax tension in your muscles.
• Count your breaths. Inhale slowly and exhale for the same number of counts. Do this 5 times while you are waiting for your appointment, or during breaks while you are sitting in the dental chair.
• Do a body scan. Concentrate on relaxing your muscles, one body part at a time. Start with your head and work your way down to your toes. For example, you can focus on releasing tension starting in your forehead, then your cheeks, your neck, and down the rest of your body. Another option to ease your anxiety is to be pre-medicated before your dental appointment, with a medication such as Valium or Xanax.

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