Keeping Calm at the Dentist with the Alexander Technique
Last week I had a check up and cleaning at the dentist. Going to the dentist is not something that most people look forward to, and some people are downright scared! While I’m not afraid of a visit to the dentist, I have become aware that it can be quite a tense experience for me, which in the past could be associated with a few days of intense neck pain and headaches following a visit.
This is why I very consciously apply all the skills I have at my disposal through my study of the Alexander Technique when I’m sitting in that dentist chair.
I’ve realized my main triggers for excess tension at the dentist are:
- Having to keep my mouth open for a long time.
- The unpleasant noise of the equipment
- Anticipation of pain/discomfort
- Actual pain/discomfort (very rare indeed!)
So I consciously work with my awareness and thought processes to address these. I notice when I start to hold my mouth open tensely and then consciously let that go. It’s perfectly possible to have a wide open mouth without lots of excess tension. In fact, I discovered I can actually open it wider without all that extra tension!
When I hear, and feel, that unpleasant shriek of the equipment on my teeth, I notice my body start to react by tightening in my neck and beyond into my whole body. I cut this off in its tracks by mentally giving myself messages along the lines of, “No, I’m not tensing,” “No, I refuse to respond that noise,” and “That’s just a noise, nothing is hurting!” as well as more “classic” Alexander Technique directions, enabling me to free up the tension in my neck and be more spacious in my entire body.
I use similar ideas when I notice myself starting to anticipate pain, and on the very rare occasion when I actually do feel some pain/discomfort, I can see beyond the pain (which is typically extremely brief) and notice how my body is reacting and choose to let go of the tension. Perhaps that tension is useful in numbing the pain while it is happening, but it certainly is not useful to hang on to afterward! Alexander Technique has helped me to be aware when I start to do that so I can let go and am not stuck in the cycle.
This is an ongoing process for me throughout the appointment!
It is also extremely useful for me to be aware of my breathing as my teeth are being worked on – noticing if I’m holding or restricting my breathing, and consciously letting that go. Simply being aware of my breath has a calming effect which is very helpful – awareness of my ribs moving with my breath, awareness of the air moving in and out through my nose.
Have you noticed that you get tense when you’re at the dentist? Or maybe even the thought of going to the dentist sets you off? What do you do to help yourself? I’d love to hear from you, so please leave your comments in the space below.
that´s an interesting article. Thank you!
My experience is, when the pain comes, that it helps me to aliviate the pain in all my breathing body. May be it´s about changing the pain into directions?
Anyway it´s pleasant.. after the pain and in the pauses.
Greeting from Berlin – Germany – Meike
Sorry Imogene, it´s your post – I just saw it via facebook, because Robert was posting it. Meike
No problem, Meike! That’s a great way to put it – “it’s pleasant… after the pain and in the pauses!” Thanks for commenting.
If there’s still pain after trying to release tension, rather than “tough it out”, a person should be assertive and tell the dentist because they may be able to provide more numbing agents to reduce pain. Some people have trouble getting numb. This has been my experience sometimes and more numbing by the dentist helps and then one can still release tension from that point too.
Practicing Alexander Technique works great for me when their giving the shot(s)too. Noticing and releasing tension in one’s feet and legs and areas away from head, neck, jaw help me too because it takes my mind away from the area their working on. Plus, it gives me something more fun and entertaining to do while I’m in the dentist chair!
That’s a very valid point about the pain, Kara. Thanks so much for pointing it out. I also find the AT very helpful when getting a shot. And exactly – it makes everything more pleasant! Thanks for commenting.
You post is reminding me of how very grateful I am to use the AT in the dentist’s chair! They almost always comment as to how easy it is to work on me, even in the back teeth. I had a very harrowing experience last year, with moment-by-moment fear, that I was able to abate by using the “whispered ah”. Your post is a reminder that we can truly assist our students as they greet the stimulus of reacting to the fear of the unknown with curiosity instead of panic!
I think you did a great job to publish such type of blog. After reading it, everyone will follow these Alexender Techniques while sitting on the dentist’s chair.