Tips to help you get through a dentist apt with PTSD

I think if I took a poll on how high anxiety was, 1-10, when going to the dentist was even mentioned, most people would range in the 6-8 range. The what if’s are high at the dentist. What if it hurts. What if I have a cavity. What if it is something worse. And more. In my own experience, going to the dentist is very triggering. I honestly cannot imagine why it would not be. You are laying flat with someone over you with total control. At least it feels that way and always has. When I say triggering I mean I am often so full of anxiety and helplessness and fear that I am pushed straight into a seizure. I am triggered deep down inside myself to not a memory exactly but just a feeling that I don’t like. Perhaps it is because I am laying down with a person over me and I am filled with unknowns. Today I changed the dentist experience for myself and I hope by sharing my experience it can help anyone that has been through trauma, has PTSD, or just plain does not like going to the dentist. 

In the past I have noticed my entire body is tense. Sometimes I have been sore for days after going to the dentist. I have even noticed my hands were clenched. My first task was to find something for my hands. I thought of something soft I could rub between my fingers but that didn’t really connect me to anything. Then I remembered my first trip to the beach in 15 years. That memory is one of the most peaceful I could think of. I posted the pictures below. I threw in the obligatory “foot beach pic” because for some reason everyone has one. I took it to be obnoxious to myself!! I posted it here just to make myself laugh.  But my point is…the shells are what I chose to hold in my hands.

That was back in December 2016. I picked up some shells on that trip. I chose to bring the shells to the dentist. I put one in each pocket for each hand. I wanted them in my pockets so I could pull them out when I needed them. I held those shells and rubbed them and brought up the images and sounds in these pictures when I felt anxiety. 

I drove my scooter in the office and kept it right next to me. My scooter in and of itself is security for me. Right outside the window was a magnolia tree that I focused on. I really wanted to keep my focus on the present and so anything I could find to stay focused would help. The magnolia worked perfectly, until I was upside down and then I focused on my shells and my imagery. 

The hygentist came in first. Due to my instant PTSD triggers to cologne, I came prepared with a garbage bag to put over the top part of the chair and then a jacket to cover that. I know they wipe down the chairs but I still smell the cologne. I researched dentist chair covers and they are relatively inexpensive but I didn’t come up with this plan in time, so a garbage bag had to do. I told the hygentist I didn’t want to get any smells on me and she was perfectly accommodating to my draping of the chair! She put a little gauze with numbing in my cheek and here is the lovely photo I took of myself leaning against my jacket. ALSO, they put that bib around you with a chain to hook it. That chain smelled badly of cologne so I immediately tossed it on the counter and just tucked the bib in my shirt. The chain you see is my medical alert necklace. 

Wow that is just a lovely picture of me isn’t it!!!! The square above my head would be my inability to take a picture on my cellphone! I rarely use a cellphone so I don’t know what I did wrong. The point of the photo is to show that a jacket with the hood draped over the headrest really isn’t that big of a deal. And to show that I am willing to post a very raw picture of me with no shame. 

When the dentist came in I was very honest. I told her that I had PTSD. I told her that I had been sexually assaulted and abused and that I had some fears that I was hoping she could help me get through. And she was AWESOME!!! I told her that I needed her to tell me exactly what she was doing before she did it. I didn’t want any surprises. I didn’t want any noises or smells or movements without knowing what they were ahead of time. I didn’t wantto feel out of control  We came up with a signal if I needed her to stop and I needed a moment. That brought back the control. She was not only accommodating to my request but gave me compassion. Told me how sorry she was that I went through that and that she would do everything she could to help me get through this filling. And she kept true to her word. I was brought to tears at her empathy and follow through of her promises. She even held my hand and comforted me. And my appointment was over. I got more understanding and respect from that dentist that at least a hundred people throughout my life. All it took was an extra 5 minutes for her to be willing to listen. And her ability to show that my feelings mattered. 

1. Do you trust your dentist. You absolutely have to be able to trust that you can set up some safety measures and your dentist will accommodate them. I told my dentist what I needed to calm me. I needed her to tell me what she was doing before she did it. 

2. Have a signal for your dentist that you both agree means stop.

3. If you have smell triggers then bring a towel or bag or jacket to put over the back of the chair so no potential smells will get on you and you won’t have to smell them as you are laying there. 

4. Put a scent you like in your nostrils. I happen to like orange and so I just get a little bit or orange lip gloss and put it on my finger and put it in my nostrils. 

5. Give your mind and hands and body a plan of what they can do instead of laying there tense. Hold anything of your choosing in your hands that you can rub or touch that can take you to a place in your mind of peace. It can be a stone, or a squishy ball, or a piece of cloth. Find something to focus on. Stare at it. Tell yourself in your mind everything about it, the texture, color, etc. 

6. Breathe. Put a dot on your hand or a heart or something that everytime you look at it, it reminds you to breathe even deeper and relax. 

7. I get cold easily. I wore long pants and a sweater so I didn’t start getting shaky. 

8. The most important part of having a successful, non anxiety provoking, triggering experience at the dentist, is to know that you can communicate with your dentist and you will feel heard and respected. 

9. I chose a woman dentist. I was most comfortable with a woman being over the top of my face. I have never had a woman dentist before. I felt it to be much more comforting than I anticipated. 

I have had unpleasant dentist experiences ever since I was abused. This was the very first dentist experience that I have ever had  where I felt that my experience mattered. I had to speak my wishes. My dentist had to respect those wishes. Both of those things happened. In the past it came down to my inability to tell the dentist what would make me most comfortable and would give me the least amount of anxiety. My last dentist was a man who wore cologne and got it on me. It was a set up for a fail to begin with! I had to be my own advocate and choose what was the best for my situation. It’s is hard to know what I want and what I need without being aware of my own body and mind. I had to really reflect on what would make me the most at ease and make a plan to make that happen.  I want better things for my body and mind. I am it’s protector. I have to speak the words that will give me the security that I need to get through experiences that would otherwise be potentially triggering. I hope my dentist experience can give you a few ideas to help you through your next. 

21 thoughts on “Tips to help you get through a dentist apt with PTSD

  1. Well first of all…weird you had a dentist appointment today. Me too!
    Mine was just a cleaning though. Hygienists, who are all young women are the ones who do the cleaning.

    That is so awesome you have a dentist who is compassionate and understanding about your circumstances. So glad you were able to have a decent experience at the dentist. That list is really helpful.

    I’m surprised I don’t have trauma around the dentist. I did not have great experiences there when I was young and at 18 a dentist pulled out my wisdom teeth in two sessions, two teeth at each. The area where the bottom ones were are pretty well scarred and can still get inflamed by certain foods.

    I have trouble with my bottom teeth being so damn sensitive to that pick they use to scrape teeth. I really need to use your idea of a signal for them to stop and let me breathe for a minute when that becomes too overwhelming.

    I have some small crystals. When you talked about the shells I thought how well the crystals would work for that.

    I’m sensitive to scents too. Cologne is horrible. I used to like it on the men I dated back when I was a young adult. But I can’t stand it anymore.

    The dentist chair cover is such a good idea with or without scents. Especially on the head area where everyone is putting their head.

    I have found that my anxiety comes mostly during the waiting. And depending on the circumstances it can depend on why I’m feeling that way. Today: the dentist’s waiting area is small and there was a woman sitting in this area on the phone the whole time I was waiting and I felt really intolerant of it. So I started feeling anxious. I used some of my wait time to use the rest room. At one point though I was really wanting to leave because of it. She was pretty loud and there was no where to get away from it. There’s a control issue there.

    Btw: WordPress is not registering my notifications for some reason…the bell isn’t showing the little lit up dot anymore. I just saw you replied to my comments from before so going to check them out now.


    • WordPress really does stink sometimes. I love it because without it I would have not met people like you and I so value that and cherish that. But man the glitches and things with their notifications freaking suck!!!! Sometimes I get no notifications at all. Today I got 800 something notifications sent to my email. I was like wth is going on!!! Stuff from a week ago that I just now got.
      Anyway, the waiting room is very hard. I have huge anticipatory stress (my therapist gave me that word, I didn’t know it) the whole anticipation of the event stress. I always go to the bathroom to calm myself. And loud is obnoxious and grating if you are already stressed. Crystals are a great idea. I have them. I am so glad you mentioned it because I can use that next time!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Awesome on the crystals. I love shells too but don’t have any. Haven’t been to the beach in so long. And it’s only about a 2 hour drive. I used to have a couple of really cool shells from my grandmother after she’d died. But somewhere along the line, during some down sizing, they went. They would’ve been too big for use at the dentist though, lol, now that I think of it.

        That would make sense that the loud talking would be more annoying than usual under stress…the senses all heighten.

        So it’s probably the problem for those who feel chronic stress all day long. I’ve seen autistic kids cover their ears at the slightest sound. Anticipatory stress makes perfect sense. Always on the look out for that proverbial shoe to drop.


      • I get overstimulated sooo easily when I am stressed. The dentist office. I went to today has a waterfall so all you hear is water. It was really nice. I find people on phones talking loudly in offices just rude anyway. I wouldn’t be talking to the person next to me that loud so don’t freakin talk that loud! My daughter brings her headphones and listens to calming music so she doesnt hear people. I need to do that too.
        I would LOVE a big shell . I just found tiny ones. Long ago i had some big ones too. But i dont know where they went. Too many boxes and little apartments I guess.


    • I was JUST reading your blog!!!!
      I haven’t read in the last week because I have been processing things and when I read sometimes I over process. Anyway. I’ve sorted through what I can from this weeks events and I wanted to see how you were doing. I just was commenting on our blog about the dry socket. And I totally forgot to mention baby food!!! When I got it all I could eat was baby food and tons of it. I’m so sorry you have that pain!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: copied: | My little simple thought

      • Oh great. I am so glad you got to visit your friend! I’m so sorry to hear you are struggling. Is there anything I can do to help?
        I am tired. I didn’t sleep well. Felt unsettled and restless. One of those kind of nights.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you. I am glad I got to see him too. Thank you. Aww you are so sweet. Thank you for that. No I wish you could. You just being there and reaching out is a big help. I worked through it and ended up having an awesome day at work. I’m sorry to hear that. I wish you a better night’s sleep tonight. I’m here if you need me.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. One of my abusers as a kid was a dentist. I worked very hard both finding and working with a good dentist until I could go for check-ups (at least) without fear. Unfortunately, when we moved to Israel I had a number of bad dentist experiences which culminated in a woman who drilled directly into the nerve without any (working) anesthetic. This was compounded by the office staff telling me she wouldn’t do such a thing. I have a wonderful dentist now – I had some work on a botched root canal on Thursday. I can’t help it though, whenever I go to see him I shake and cry. It is amazing reading your list of things how many of them I do. It’s a good list. The most important thing seems to b having a dentist that you trust and who is trustworthy.


    • I am so sorry that that person that abused you was a dentist! I hope my blog didn’t trigger too many bad memories for you.
      That on top of other bad dentist experiences is very upsetting. Just to know there are such heartless people who would discount and dismiss your pain. I’m so sorry you went through that.
      I’m so so glad you have a good dentist now. Looks like you and I were both at the dentist on the same day.
      This was the first good experience for me, if you can call having 2 cavities drilled a good experience.
      And yet a few days later I am dealing with some anxiety issues that I think it stirred up even though I did my best and so did she. But like you said you still shake and cry so that makes me think that some things are just deep rooted and still cause us fear. I hope that botched root canal got fixed!

      Liked by 1 person

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