Since I’m taking my year off from pressuring myself to keep up with social media, I quickly fall behind on the accounts that I enjoy. So, I did a little catch up today and came across this post that is already a month old, and I had thoughts.
🥺🥺🥺 I cried reading this.
I have not been to the dentist in probably 7+ years.
My dad was my dentist and my sister was his dental assistant but he has now retired and she has changed jobs. (They also live 1,500 km away from me, so even when going to my dad was an option, it was still only once every few years or so.)
My dad was “difficult” – an old-school dentist, raised by a militant father and learned his vocation in the late 60s, so he didn’t ever want to “coddle” anyone (AKA accommodate their sensitives) BUT… he’s my dad, so I was still infinitely more comfortable with him than I would have been with a stranger. And once my sister joined his team, he made a lot of changes in regards to how he treated me as his patient.
Going to the dentist is nerve-wracking for ANY person. Even more so for anyone who is neurodivergent. The sounds, the smells, the strangers all up in your face, the possibility of pain, the loss of control over your environment, and of course, the stress of having to allow intimate access to your internal body (ie. your mouth hole. Yikes!). You are in a vulnerable position.
I deal with all of that apprehension but my BIGGEST fear about going to see a dentist is not being able to breathe and fluids going down my throat. I avoid breathing through my nose in almost all public situations because I have so many smell-related sensory issues. But you HAVE to breathe through your nose when someone is occupying your oral cavity! After years of just crying and gagging through appointments and my dad being super frustrated with me, my sister’s inclusion helped us realize that if I could just be the one to be in charge of the spit-sucker-upper hose thing, holding it and aiming it where I thought I needed it most in my mouth, it made a HUGE difference.
We also worked out a way for me to non-verbally signal to them (tapping my sister’s arm) when I felt I needed to sit up and they would stop working for a moment so that I take a few deep breaths before lying back down and continuing.
There are a few often-repeated tips for ND patients heading in to see their dentist to make their appointments a little less traumatizing. And I have a few of my own I’ve used from my own experiences.
Many people suggest wearing noise cancelling headphones during dental visits. For regular check-ups and cleanings, this is a great idea. However, for more complicated procedures such as cavity fillings or root canals, the dentist or assistant may need to speak directly to you to give yo directions or check in on your sensations – so you need to be able to hear them. In that case, I recommend watching a movie on your phone or asking them to turn their music up to drown out some of the anxiety-inducing noise.
Some noises, however, are INSIDE your head. Literally. When they are drilling into your teeth, no amount of noise cancelling can get rid of that. And it’s a scary sound. In that case, some of the other advice I’ve come across suggests asking for them to put one of the x-ray aprons on you to act as a weighted blanket, hold a little soft stuffie for comfort, have a partner, friend, parent or carer to sit with you, and ask the dental assistant to keep you updated on how much longer it will take and, if the information helps you, explain exactly what they are doing.
Fidget toys can be good for basic appointments but during delicate procedures, they need you to lie as still as possible. (My dad’s assistants actually started putting that weighted apron over my legs without me even asking for it because my legs shake when I’m extremely anxious. The weight helped to subdue my involuntary movements). So the x-ray apron may be helpful to other people for that purpose as well.
The light that dentists shine directly at you so they can see clearly into your mouth is also something that has always caused me great difficulty. They usually give you a pair of sunglasses-type shields but I never liked them because they were A) inadequate, hardly blocking anything, and B) worn by other people. Gross. So I prefer to bring my own.
I’ve also been known to take a couple fast-releasing anxiety pills before my appointment starts. No shame in medicating to help you get through it! (Do so with a prescriber’s approval please.)
I also like the idea of getting a treat after you are finished. They usually advise you not to eat or drink anything a couple hours after your appointment – and if you’ve had a filling done, your mouth might be frozen for several hours as well – but a new stuffie or stim toy or book or… anything you want really would be great!
Ollie’s post gives me hope. 🥰🥲 It seems like things in the dentistry field may be changing a little and it may be easier to find professionals who understand how to help people with diverse needs – and perhaps even one day the environment of dental offices in general won’t be such a nightmare in themselves.
What would a calm, relaxing, pleasant dental office look like to you?