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A Simple Five Minute Cure For Dental Anxiety

Marvin Mansky, DDS

For many of us, the prospect of dental treatment creates tremendous anxiety. In over 25 years as a dentist serving New York City's west side community, I developed the "Simple Five Minute Anxiety Cure" as one of the techniques to reduce dental anxiety.

Anxiety is a problem because it causes physical discomfort. First, we have a threatening thought; discomfort immediately follows. For example, the thought "I need a shot" may immediately be followed by a knot of tension somewhere in the body. What makes it particularly difficult is the feeling we have no control. Anxiety limits us from dealing with the situation the way we normally deal with stress-free situations.

Unfortunately, many consequences may result from dental anxiety. We may delay dental care until a dental emergency develops. We may neglect preventive home care and routine office visits. Some of us live with bad breath or an unattractive smile. Some make and break dental appointments. The whole experience is emotionally and physically unsettling and uncomfortable. In the long run, it accounts for greater dental expenses, tooth loss and more complicated dental treatments.

In my office we provide an environment and techniques that rapidly eliminate anxiety as a barrier to dental care.

Some Background Specific To Dental Anxiety

At birth, the tongue is the only fully developed organ and for the first two months of life, the mouth is the most significant functioning organ in the body. Necessary for feeding, the infant's survival depends on it. It also connect the infant with others. It is used to communicate, express feelings and explore the world. As we grow and mature, it continues to play a significant role in everything we do.

During this period when the mouth's significance is so profound, the infant is helpless, can't express itself fully, must do what others want, and can be physically hurt. If we feel helpless during dental treatment, the infants feelings of helplessness arise from our unconscious. For adults these unconscious feelings of helplessness cause great anxiety.

Additional Causes Of Dental Anxiety

Often the dentist is seen as an authority figure. A person with difficult or threatening early childhood authority figures may transfer these feelings to the dentist. Anxious feelings increase if the person treating your mouth is considered difficult or threatening.

Another factor that increases dental anxiety relates to the physical closeness required for dental treatment. If a person leaning over you, touching you, and putting his or her hands in your mouth is distressing, your anxiety level will increase.

Eliminating Acute Anxiety

The following exercise will give you control over the physical discomfort you feel from anxiety. If you are not feeling anxious right now start the exercise at #1; if you are feeling anxious start the exercise at #2.

  1. To eliminate anxiety, you must first feel anxious. In order to feel the physical discomfort of anxiety, sit in a chair in a quiet place and picture yourself in a stressful dental or non-dental situation. A dental situation can be either an anticipated dental experience or a difficult past dental experience. A non-dental situation may be speaking in front of an audience. First stand outside yourself and watch yourself in the difficult situation. Next experience being in the difficult situation by looking at it through your eyes. As soon as you feel physical discomfort, go on to the next step.
  2. Close your eyes. Travel inside your body with your mind and find the area that feels especially stressed. For many of us, the uncomfortable area will be in the stomach. Others may feel uncomfortable in the chest, head, shoulders, hands or arms. Because the discomfort is mainly in one area, this area feels different and separate from the rest of your body. At this point, think of the degree of discomfort as a "10" on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst. This awareness will allow you to know how well you are doing. For example, a "5" will mean you are doing better.
  3. This step is important, so please give it your full attention. Because the area feels isolated, you will be aware that it has borders and a shape. Explore its borders, shape and the surrounding areas with your mind. Is it round, oval or square? Is it a large area or is it small? Is the border very defined or loosely defined? How deep does the area go? Does it go all the way to your back? Halfway? Or is it shallow and just under the surface? Now determine if the area feels solid, mushy or fluttery.
  4. Now that you are familiar with it, there are things you can do to manipulate it.

    • Open up the border of the area and let it spread out into a wider area. This may be easy or it may take some effort. Most people can do this easily. If it takes you a little longer, that's fine. Once you do it you'll know its value. When successful, (and I know you can do it) check to see how it is on a scale of 1 to 10. Most likely, it will be lower than 10.
    • Now make the area smaller, to the size of a Ping-Pong ball. When this is done, move it up or down or to either side. To do this, visualize a space opening in front of the area in the direction you wish to move it. Move it into this space and then move it back to where it was before you moved it. Check out how it feels on a scale of 1 to 10. At this point, you should be aware that you are getting control over your discomfort. In only a few more moments, you will have complete control.
    • To accomplish complete control, open a pathway "like the Red Sea parting" from wherever the discomfort is to your throat. Now move the ball into your throat. When accomplished, take a deep breath and blow the ball out through your mouth. Once again, check to see where you are on the 1 to 10 scale. Is there any discomfort left? If there is, it's time to get rid of it. It's a crummy feeling. Think how good it will be to get rid of it. Take another deep breath and blow out the rest of it.

Our lives are frequently stressful and driven. Having a tool to reduce anxiety immediately is very valuable. It can eliminate both the discomfort we feel and the roadblocks to success we often set up by feeling anxious.

Marvin Mansky, DDS
164 West 96 Street
New York, NY 10025

Phone: 212-749-0600
Fax: 212-222-4248

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