Written by, Dr. Jerry Simon D.D.S
(Founder of Dental Care Stamford)
For as long as I can remember, FEAR and DENTIST have nearly been synonymous. Unfortunately, FEAR is the reason why so many people avoid regular dental treatment. It turns into an ongoing loop where nothing gets done. The fear prevents them from having routine dental checkups, which are essential to tackle dental issues while they are minor and painless. Instead, they only come in when problems have escalated, further amplifying their dental fears.
Since the beginning of human existence our brain has one function above all others and that is to protect ourselves. If our oxygen gets low it makes us breathe faster. If we get too hot it makes us sweat. If we get too cold we shiver…. All on autopilot, but all that is good.
If our brains senses harm can come to us it jump starts the FIGHT, FRIGHT or FREEZE System. Our heart beats faster and our breathing deepens, our blood is diverted to our muscles and our metabolism is switched to release sugar in our blood stream for more energy so we can either fight, run away or petrify. And if you are someone who fears the dentist, your FIGHT, FRIGHT or FREEZE System kicks in, making it very difficult to go to the dentist.
Fear mostly comes from a horrible experience and then your brain says, “Hey! We don’t like that, don’t do that again!” For instance, if a kid goes to the dentist where they experience any pain or is very afraid, their brain develops a strong negative association with the word dentist– ‘going to the dentist leads to extreme harm.’ So the brain says, “don’t go there anymore!” And files that in the really important stuff part of the brain along any other strong fears that we refer to as phobias.
So now that kid grows up to be an adult and has carried that fear with them. Although that 43 year old adult knows that it is important to get regular dental care, they say to themselves with good intention, “Gee I really should get a dental checkup,” but their powerful unconscious brain slams on the brakes and says, “Stop, we could get killed there!” Since we are not a little kid to pitch a fit, we just find excuses to rationalize why it’s okay to not to go to the dentist–We are too busy…. it is too expensive, or since nothing hurts it is really not necessary– but ultimately we are just avoiding it.
Unfortunately, something bad will eventually happen…a tooth breaks, we sense our breath is not as fresh, or something starts a little twinge and you realize that it has been quite a while since your last dental checkup. So the battle begins again between your rational adult brain that says we really need to get this checked out and your all powerful primitive survival brain that goes into fight, flight or freeze mode.
There are 6 layers in the “conscious-thinking” part of the brain that are separate, but connected to work together. These bad memories as we mentioned above are stored in the top priority part of the memory and directly attached to the Fight / Flight / Freeze system. Logically, we all know the dentist is not scary, but our minds just have a strong way of telling us it is. So that is where we come in to help! With these 4 steps you can get your dental health back on track with no stress at all:
Step 1, Rewrite your bad dental experiences: We assure you that we will not hurt you. Let’s keep you out of the old scary dental movie…together we can make a new movie about “painless dental treatment.” So do the opposite of what you usually do.
Step 2, Take the steps to shift your focus: Keep your eyes open and pay attention to notice how it really feels. Do not clench your hands, instead take slow, relaxed breaths. We won’t let you see scary things. In fact, we have a 4 foot TV on the ceiling overhead to change your focus.
Step 3, Create a painless dental experience. We use specially buffered local anesthetic that stings less. We will put the anesthetic in a little at a time so we can numb as we go, by the time we start treatment you won’t feel a thing!
Step 4, Eliminate your Fear of the Dentist: So now that we have established a ‘new movie’ — a set of new memories full of positive dental experiences— of what a real dental visit should be in layer one of the 6 layers, the next step is to get a copy and paste it into the other 5 layers to Eliminate your Fear of the Dentist.
The way you do this is within 24 hours after your visit, you tell 5 people something unique and fun about your visit such as:
• The dental assistant showed you a picture of their new puppy.
• Repeat the joke your dentist told you
• Something that one of the dental team did that made you feel comfortable and safe
The memory of your visit is stored in your mind. In order to tell the story of your dental visit, you have to access the memory file, leading the brain to duplicate and store it in an additional layer. After doing this five times, you’ll have a positive memory of the dental experience in all six layers of your brain.
Once this new positive memory takes root in all six layers, you’ll naturally access the file with the positive dental visit memory reducing your fears and anxiety, thus rendering the Fight/Flight/Freeze response unnecessary.
You might think, does this actually work? After doing this exact method with my patients for over 30 years, I can confidently confirm that it works!
At Dental Care of Stamford we understand that many people are anxious about going to the dentist. Our goal is to help guide our patients through their dental appointments with confidence and ease. Take a step toward a better experience by sharing your feelings and concerns with us. Together, we will find solutions that help you overcome your fears so that you can have the healthy, beautiful smile that you deserve.