6 Natural Ways To Calm The Eff Down Before Your Next Dentist Visit

No valium needed.

August 29, 2017
Science Photo Library

Dentist dread. It happens. A lot. Estimates say 40 to 75 percent of people experience fear and anxiety that can mean postponing or canceling dentist appointments, sometimes permanently. If you struggle with anxiety around visits to the dentist, we're here to help. Next time, keep your appointment and your nerves in check with these natural chill-out remedies and say “Ahhh” for real.

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coloring book
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Don't Wait In The Waiting Room, Do Something

If you arrive a few minutes early to your dentist appointment, don’t sit and let your anxiety build—distract yourself. “Distraction is enormously valuable,” says Dr. Peter Milgrom, DDS, professor of oral health sciences and pediatric dentistry in the School of Dentistry at the University of Washington. “Instead of giving your anxiety a chance to grow, it lets you think about something else.”

Practical pointer: Listen to your favorite podcast (here are the best podcasts to start listening to), write in a journal, or color in a coloring book while you wait.

Related: 6 Mistakes You're Making Every Time You Brush Your Teeth

talking to dentist
Tell Your Dentist About Your Fears

Your first line of defense: Admit your fears and let your dentist know what you need. That way your dentist can slow down and break things up into steps. “When you know what’s going to come next, it’s less painful,” adds Milgrom.

Practical pointer: Establish a stop signal in advance, a non-verbal gesture like a thumb's down, that tells your dentist to halt. This enhances your sense of control, which research shows can reduce anxiety.

This DIY lotion soothes dry skin and features natural scents that help you de-stress.

listening to music at dentist
Hero Images/getty
Queue Up Some Music

Music really can calm the anxious dental patient, reducing heart rate and blood pressure, lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol and even reducing brain activity—but not all sounds are created equal. A study published in PLOS ONE found that those who listened to classical music, like Allegri’s Miserere, returned to a less-stressed state more quickly than those who listened to nature sounds. Ambient music could also be your ticket. Research by British neuroscientist Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson found that Weightless by Marconi, an 8-minute track composed with the help of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, reduced anxiety by 65 percent. (The right music can also help ease your dog's anxiety.)

Practical pointer: Have your soothing playlist and earphones ready. Bonus: Music can also drown out the drill.

Related: 12 Things Your Dentist Knows About You Just By Looking In Your Mouth

Kazunori Matsuo/getty
Use Guided Imagery, Visualization, Or Meditation

There are plenty of proven ways to quiet that crazy monkey mind: Close your eyes and visual something relaxing (visualization), use scripts or tapes to mentally guide you to a calm state (guided imagery), or train your mind to focus on the present (meditation). All of the above can enhance a person’s coping skills; just don’t try them for the first time in the chair. Find the technique that works best for you and utilize it before, during, and after your appointment. (Check out these 5 meditations you can do anywhere.)

Practical pointer: There are plenty of free relaxation and mindfulness apps to get you started. Try CalmMeditation Made Simple, or Headspace and have a go-to relaxing image on mental speed dial just in case your phone runs out of juice.

Related: The Best Natural Teeth Whitening Methods, According To Holistic Dentists

JGI/Jamie Grill/getty
Just Breathe

Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8. That’s the breathing technique Texas-based oral surgeon Robert G. McNeill, DDS, M.D., teaches to all his patients. Arguably the fastest and easiest way to hack your body’s relaxation response, controlled breathing activates the parasympathetic reaction, slowing your heart rate and lowering blood pressure.

Practical pointer: Breathing can be done anywhere, no props required, just inhale and exhale deeply through your nose.

Related: 10 Quick And Easy Ways To De-Stress In Under A Minute

Get Your Aromatherapy On

When patients visit Dr. McNeill, they first go to the relaxation room, a calming space filled with the invigorating yet relaxing aroma of orange essential oil. That’s because the citrusy scent has been proven to reduce patient anxiety during dental surgery.

Lavender also works as a chill pill. In another study, the smell of lavender in the reception area was shown to reduce anxiety in dental patients. (Check out these 7 cool things we never knew lavender could do.)

Practical pointer: Place a few drops of either orange or lavender essential oil on a cotton ball, or even your wrists, and inhale as needed.

Related: 5 Best Essential Oils For Anxiety