How Mindfulness Can Help You … At The Dentist

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Hate The Dentist? Mindfulness Can Help

BY LY HART-SMITH

Mindfulness refers to paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. It can be practiced in lots of different ways, but formal mindfulness practice is about bringing awareness to the here and now by repeatedly directing our attention to an aspect of our present experience – the movement and sensations of your breath for example – and bringing our attention back to this experience when our mind is inevitably drawn elsewhere. Most of the time we practice mindfulness with our eyes closed in a quiet environment with limited distractions, but we can use mindfulness in other situations as well.

You can use mindfulness anywhere…even at the dentist

Take the dentist for example. Getting a filling at the dentist is something most of us don’t enjoy. I recently tried to be mindful during a five-surface molar filling (a very big, time-consuming, and expensive filling), and was pleasantly surprised with the experience.

I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see the dentist and think about all the things I should have done to take better care of my teeth and planned to pay attention as non-judgmentally as I could to the things that naturally drew my attention. I noticed physical sensations, including pressure and a slight pinch at the beginning. Then I noticed a whirring sound and more pressure and some catching sensations. Funnily enough, what was most apparent for me was the dryness of my mouth and tongue, the feeling that something was collecting at the back of my throat, and tickly feelings along with intense urges to swallow, close my mouth, or cough.

At this point, I started to be pulled out of the present. I started worrying about the possibility of gagging, ruining my filling and needing to start over, as well as wondering how much longer it would take, and thinking that I couldn’t hold back for much longer – it was pretty unbearable. So I decided to redirect my attention to something else in the present – the rising and falling movement of my breathing, while I waited for the urges to pass. To my surprise, it did, though this was something that happened repeatedly at varying levels of intensity.

I also noticed physical sensations outside of my mouth. My brows scrunched into a frown, the back of my neck was tense, and my stomach muscles were flexed. Each time I realised this was happening, I made a conscious effort to release these muscles and paid attention to how I felt afterwards – much more relaxed and patient.

Being mindful in the dentist’s chair was an interesting experience. I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy having a filling done, but it certainly beats getting caught up in worry, anxiety, and rumination. Of course, having a great dentist helps too.

Ly is a genuine and compassionate psychologist who is dedicated to providing adults and adolescents with a supportive, safe, and structured environment in which to make sense of their difficulties and take charge of their lives. She is committed to tailoring evidence-based treatments to each individual, and enjoys working collaboratively to help clients develop skills and self-knowledge to bring about meaningful and lasting change.


 

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