Why You Can (and Should) Relax at the Dentist

Why You Can (and Should) Relax at the Dentist
By Andy Nette

For many people, a visit to their dentist can come with a sense of dread, due mostly to the anticipation of discomfort or pain. Fear of the needle may be the most common source of stress for those who lose sleep in anticipation of their appointment for a dental procedure.

As a dentist, I would like to share a tip that will mitigate most of the discomfort associated with the administration of local anesthesia, or what we usually call “freezing”:

The inside of your mouth is a sensitive place, thanks to abundant sensory nerve endings. Because of this, most dentists use a topical gel, applied to the surface tissue a few minutes before an injection. However, right below the surface, virtually everywhere in the mouth, are muscles. These muscles help you smile, whistle, swallow, or spit. Some of these muscles are thin, and others are quite substantial. For instance, an injection to freeze one side of your lower jaw, in order to perform a procedure on a lower back tooth, requires that the needle pass through a curtain of muscle that is several millimeters thick. If the muscle is tense, the injection will be uncomfortable, even painful. But if the muscle is relaxed, the patient will hardly notice the passage of the needle through it.

A simple way to relax all of the muscles in and around your mouth is to relax your shoulders, arms and hands. The classic image of the nervous dental patient, clenching the arms of the chair, white knuckles and all, is especially unfortunate, as that person is going to experience the sensation of the injection much more than if they were instead relaxed.

So, the next time your dentist needs to inject before a filling, remember to relax your shoulders. You’ll be surprised how painless an injection can be!

Dr. Andy Nette has joyfully practiced dentistry for 42 years.