How I Stayed Calm at the Dentist – Mindfulness Works

Posted on October 14, 2013 by

dentist-abstractGoing to the dentist can be so anxiety provoking for some people that they actually refuse to have even routine dental care.  Recently I had an infected tooth extracted and a titanium post implanted as a base for a future tooth.  Despite the fear and anxiety often associated with a dentist visit, I was able to relax and stay calm during the entire procedure.

When I first sat down in the chair the dentist told me all the things that could possibly go wrong with the tooth extraction.  He said the tooth could fracture and then he would have to dig the root out.  And he showed me the nerve bundle that was close to the root and explained that the extraction could damage the nerve which might cause long term pain.

Great!  I could feel my anxiety rapidly increasing.  I knew I would need to do something to calm myself down or the whole procedure would feel like torture.

Here’s what I did that helped me totally relax. 

First, I set an intention that the extraction and implant would all go very smoothly.  In fact I told the dentist that’s what I thought would happen and gave him two thumbs up.  In my mind I reviewed what I knew about the education and experience of my dentist and put my confidence in his skill for a perfectly successful outcome.  And then I let my worry go.

12jun-smiley-meditateThen I did 4 relaxation breaths to calm my physical and emotional stress response.  I inhaled through my nose to the count of 4 and then exhaled slowly through my mouth to the count of 8.  I repeated this 4 times, imagining that I was inhaling peace, comfort, and relaxation and exhaling stress, worry, and tension.  As I did this I could feel my body letting go of tension and beginning to relax. I brought my attention to the comfort of the chair, the soothing music that was playing, and the positive and competent energy of the dentist and his surgical assistant and they bustled about getting everything ready.

During the Novocain injections (about 7 of them!) I breathed slowly, consciously relaxed my jaw and allowed the needle to easily slide in and start the numbing process.  I thought of how helpful the injections were to prevent further discomfort.  It turns out that these injections were the only part of the process that were painful, until the Novocain wore off hours later.

Then, as the dentist and his assistant worked steadily to extract the tooth and implant the titanium screw, I allowed floating-in-watermyself to float. I changed the channel in my mind from the worry channel to my relaxing channel. I imagined that I was floating gently and effortlessly on my back in the ocean (something my Dad and I used to enjoy together).  I imagined the feel of the salty water and the gentle waves as they lifted me up and gently settled me back down again in the surf at the shore.  I imagined the smell of the salt in the air.  I pictured the blue sky, and sparkling water.  I visualized the seagulls and listened to the sounds of the birds and the waves.  I was far away from the dentist’s chair.

Whenever my attention came back to the room I acknowledged where I was, that all was proceeding according to plan, took a few more relaxation breaths and changed the channel again.

I became so relaxed that I felt myself falling asleep several times. This sure beats the alternative of feeling stressed out, anxious, and tense.  Next time you are going to the dentist use these mindfulness skills to set a positive intention, to relax your mind and body with relaxation breathing and then to change the channel to something you find relaxing and stress free. (Note: The extraction and implant went perfectly without any of the potential problems the dentist warned me about. Hooray!)

Want to learn more about mindfulness skills? Check out these great mindfulness resources at Mindfulness Resources.

Please let me know which mindfulness skills have helped you.

Debra Burdick, LCSW, also known as ‘The Brain Lady’, is an international expert on ADHD and Mindfulness. She is an award-winning, #1 best-selling author of: Mindfulness Skills Workbook, Mindfulness Skills for Kids and Teens, ADHD: Non-Medication Treatments and Skills for Children and Teens, Mindfulness for Teens with ADHD, Mindfulness for Kids with ADHD, Mindfulness Skills for Kids Card Deck, and Radical Self-Care When You Are Ill Card Deck. She is an international speaker and retired psychotherapist and neurotherapist, who has been helping all ages thrive for over 30 years.

I would love to hear your personal experiences with this topic.


  1. This was very helpful for me because ever since my brain surgery, dentist appointments have been extremely uncomfortable. My sensitivity is way higher than it usually was so I dread visits to the dentist’s office. This will help calm me down. I know the hygienist will appreciate it, too because she is so sweet but had to verbally calm me down each time. Thanks!

    Comment by Janet Schliff on at

  2. Hi Janet,
    I’m so glad this will be helpful to you.

    Comment by Debra Burdick on at

  3. Very helpful. Nervous about a cavity being filled. Being dental phobic here.


    Comment by David Bursky on at

  4. Glad it is helpful. Just breathe out twice as long as you breathe in. And change the channel from the scary dentist channel to something that feels good to watch. Will be practicing myself this week at the dentist.

    Comment by Debra Burdick on at

  5. im going to the dentist today , im going to try this as im quite phobic about dentists needles. ill let you know. thanks for writing this , wendy x

    Comment by wendy lawrence on at

  6. i am going to the dentist tomorrow i am so nervous im only 10 and the last time i was there i needed a star it HURT SO BAD i dont know what to do your advise or the other website yours sounds a lot calmer and the other one sounded hard and more frustrating.

    Comment by kelci on at

  7. going to dentist today and nervous. Glad I found your post and will let you know how it turned out.

    Comment by Cathy on at

  8. I can try

    Comment by Miles Morales on at

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Categories: Anxiety, Articles, Mindfulness