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  • Writer's pictureAlicia Paz

DBT Skills at the Dentist

CW: Dental Phobia

I have relatively severe dental phobia. I won't get into the why, but the whole experience is a bit terrifying. Making the appointment has been challenging, sitting in the chair for the cleaning is terrifying, and I have historically, as an adult, avoided my expected annual cleaning.

My kids go twice a year, yet the last time I went was nearly six years ago. I started to have some tooth sensitivity and cracked two older fillings and thought if I don't take care of things now, I will eventually be without teeth.

Here's how I used Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills during this stressful time and made it through.

Before the appointment

Cope Ahead

I booked the appointment weeks ago. I took the day off of work to focus on self-care. I wrote a list of things to do later so I wouldn't forget to do it.

I went to a place recommended by a close friend, so I felt more comfortable.

I debated an anti-anxiety medication but didn't feel comfortable traveling to the dentist on it, so I skipped it.

I did all the paperwork online so I didn't need to be there longer than I needed. I also checked the box for "dental phobia."

I expected to need some follow-up work but didn't focus on the worst-case scenario or "what if's."

I planned to advocate for myself. If I felt any physical or mental discomfort, I was going to state it aloud.


I arrived 30 minutes early by accident. I sat in my car and did some breathing work. I also chatted with some friends who hyped me up with text messages knowing how hard this was for me.


I checked out Instagram as I had a nail appointment after the dentist (self-care!) and spent some time in my car time looking at nail pictures.

During the Appointment


During the appointment, which was longer than usual since it's been years since the last cleaning, I counted ceiling tiles.

I counted flowers on a paper umbrella strung to the ceiling.

I thought about things I was going to do later that day.

I focused on the equipment, set-up, and details of the room.

I counted how many teeth I have when looking at the X-Ray screen.

I focused on the taste of the toothpaste and the texture of the product in my mouth.

FAST and Advocating for myself

I checked the box on the forms about dental phobia.

I raised my hands when things were uncomfortable or hurt.

I accepted some numbing cream when offered to make me more comfortable.

I asked for a quick break early on for a few moments before the hygienist started.

When the hygienist checked in on how I was doing, I was 100% honest.

Although things took longer than I expected, I was comfortable and felt heard.

When I met with the dentist, he read my chart and asked if I wanted meds for a follow-up appointment (yes, please!).

Before my exam with him, he asked if I was comfortable, needed anything, or wanted to move to a larger space. He also asked the hygienist I spent over an hour with already to stay near me, so she was next to me in my view the whole time.

After the Appointment

Leaving the Clinic

I made the follow-up appointment right after, as opposed to "umm, I'll call to set that up later," and then not calling.

I advocated for and protected myself by taking the rest of the day off of work and getting a ride home.


Overall, it went well. I felt heard, the staff was great, and they didn't make me feel weird, or like I stood out.

For my follow-up appointments, I will wear earplugs, as I found the sounds of the dental equipment upsetting.

I felt proud and my "hype friends" in the group chat messaged me with kind and funny things while I was at my appointment that I saw later in the parking lot.

I got my nails done after and had a fairly chill day.


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