Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Most people are afraid of going to the dentist. For years I have used mindfulness to relax away from the fear.
When I was 14, I started two years of orthodontics treatment to straighten my teeth. This involved hours of adjusting braces, fitting retainers, and filing down teeth to fit.
Lots of spraying water into my mouth and vacuuming it up with a hose. I would have to keep my mouth open so long the inside of my mouth would get dry.
Sometimes I would sit for hours in a dentist’s chair, waiting while the orthodontist worked in the next room. I would stare up at rows of plaster casts of teeth, arranged in stacks of black boxes with clear fronts. Some were so misshapen they looked like animal or monster teeth.
I can’t say that I dreaded visits to the orthodontist, because I was looking forward to having nice straight teeth. My mom was also going to the same orthodontist, and she told me he was one of the best in the country, so I trusted him. I did find the orthodontist visits a bit tedious, because I was just stuck there for however long it took.
At the same time, I was usually tired, and sometimes I would get sleepy while waiting. I started to wonder if I could use the orthodontist visits to catch up on some rest.
Relaxing into fear
I started to practice deep relaxation while sitting in the dentist’s chair. I surrendered completely and just let things happen, without trying to anticipate or control them. I would try to get as far as I could to falling asleep. I remained dimly aware of what was going on in my mouth, without focusing on it. I would do the same thing when I visited the dentist.
With my eyes closed, and relaxing as much as possible I would be dimly aware of noise, vibration, touch and moisture and dryness in mouth. But I would try not to focus too much on these sensations, by keeping my eyes closed and imagining myself ‘looking away’ to other parts of the room. As an adult I realised that sitting in the dentist’s chair was one of the few places I did not worry.
It’s as if sitting in the dentist’s chair reconnected me to my younger self, and to a different time and place, just like when I went on holiday and reconnected with my holiday self. The dentist’s chair was a familiar place where I knew what to do. The combination of surrender, deep relaxation, mindfulness and ‘looking away’ from sensations kept me from worrying or being afraid.