Dental Anxiety Help – 8

Posted by on Nov 25, 2009 in Blogs | 2 comments

Dental Anxiety Help 8 – “Physical Responses”

In this blog series, Dental Anxiety Help, we’d like to introduce our guest contributor, Andre Perreault, LMHC.  Every Wednesday we will be featuring his advice and helpful tips for people who experience anxiety, fear, and phobias about dental visits.  Please check back every week for more – we will tag our posts with “anxiety” for quick reference when viewing in a feeder program. At the bottom of each “Dental Anxiety Help” you can find links to previous entries as well. If you’d like to reach Mr. Perreault directly, please call him at (617) 835-6581.

Anxiety is a feeling response to the perception of a possible harm.  That response is a lot more than just a feeling.  Your body has a number of its own reactions that you may not even notice.  The catch is that each one of those body reactions affects your thinking too.  And after affecting your thinking each of these body reactions also feeds back into your initial feelings of fear making them stronger.  Here is a list of body responses to the stress of anxiety and fear and the physical results that you might experience with those feelings. Lady with flower

Heart rate goes up: When this happens you have an increased tendency to obsess on a thought. (“Oh no this is going to hurt. I know it is. I know it is. I know it is.”)

Breathing rate goes up: When your breathing rate increases you have an increase in compulsion. (“I am getting out of here!”)

Circulation is centralized: When your circulation centralizes in your body, you get cold hands and feet.  Your blood isn’t making it to your limbs fully and you have a decrease in agility and could trip. (Clumsiness due to poorer motor control in addition to distraction.)

Muscle tension rises: When your muscles stiffen up this leads to rigidity in the body, greater discomfort, and an overall drop in strength.

Energy increases in the short term: This symptom can sound positive; unfortunately you experience a constriction in your thoughts and behaviors along with this. (Your imagination is cut off. You can’t imagine any positive possibilities and you get stuck with the negative possibilities you have begun to obsess on.)

Increase in dis-ease: This leads to an overall experience of fatigue.  You may have to take a nap after you experience rather strong periods of anxiety.

Relaxation is your best tool in dealing with anxiety, so Tip #6 is to learn your own best relaxation methods.  People like different foods.  People like different music.  And people have all different ways to relax that work better for themselves than for others.  The ways you relax may be personal but the effect is universal.  Consider again the effects of anxiety listed above.  Relaxation has the opposite effect.  When you relax, you keep your mobility and decision making ability.  You stay comfortable.  You remain at peak performance in mind and body.  You feel in control.  You are better able to self regulate and you have a much greater tolerance for others in your personal space.

At the dentist, tolerance for closeness is really quite important.  When you think about it, a dentist, or any doctor examining you, gets into your personal space.  You need to be comfortable with that physical but professional closeness to allow the dentist to work on your teeth.  That takes a lot of trust and it’s much easier when you can relax.

Believe it or not, relaxation is something that takes practice.  Just like any physical activity that you want to improve upon, you have to practice.  Ideally you would have at least 20 minutes a day during which you could practice relaxation.  As you practice your relaxation response — ability to make yourself relax — will be easier and easier, and it will become second nature.  Here are three common relaxation techniques:

  1. Progressive muscle relaxation: When anxiety takes hold, progressive muscle relaxation can help you release muscle tension and take a “time out” from your worries.  The technique involves systematically tensing and then releasing different muscle groups in your body.  As your body relaxes, your mind will follow.
  2. Deep breathing: When you’re anxious, you breathe faster.  This hyperventilation causes symptoms such as dizziness, breathlessness, lightheadedness, and tingly hands and feet.  These physical symptoms are frightening, leading to further anxiety and panic.  But by breathing deeply from the diaphragm, you can reverse these symptoms and calm yourself down.
  3. Mediation: Many types of meditation have been shown to reduce anxiety.  Mindfulness meditation, in particular, shows promise for anxiety relief.  Research shows that mindfulness meditation can actually change your brain.  With regular practice, meditation boosts activity on the left side of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for feelings of serenity and joy.

Our series concludes next week with some online resources for dental anxiety.  In the meantime, you may visit the sedation dentistry and relaxation section of Drs. Ali and Ali’s website at

Also, please feel free to refer back to the previous 7 Dental Anxiety Help series posts.

Entry 1 – “I think I have dental phobia” Click here

Entry 2 – “Reality Check” Click here

Entry 3- “To worry or not to worry” Click here

Entry 4 – “Positive Outcomes” Click here

Entry 5 – “Schedule your worry time” Click here

Entry 6 – “Ask these questions” Click here

Entry 7 — “Cognitive Distortions” Click here


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