Does visiting the dentist make you feel anxious, worried, or nervous? Do you avoid scheduling check-ups, or does it cause you extra stress in the weeks and days leading up to your appointment? If so, fear of the dentist could be preventing you from getting the dental care you need. Here are 7 quick tips to help improve your dental experience.

1. Get informed

The clinic staff can answer all your questions, so take the time to find out exactly what will happen during your visit. What kind of exam or procedure will be performed? What will the dentist be doing? Will there be a hygienist or an assistant involved? What you might see, feel or hear? Will there be any discomfort? How long will the procedure take? Once you understand what to expect, it will be easier to manage your fears.

2. Ask the dentist to narrate

Let the dentist and the staff know that you feel nervous and ask them to explain what they are doing as they go along. They can tell you what they’re about to do and what you might feel or hear. They can tell you why a certain step is necessary, or how it helps to keep your teeth healthy. It’s comforting to know what is happening and to know that the dentist is paying attention to your needs and comfort level.

3. Plan “stop and go” signals

Plan a couple of hand signals and tell your dentist to check in with you frequently while they are working. For example, the dentist might ask, “Are you ready for me to inject the freezing?” Then, you can give the “wait” sign by raising your hand or holding up one finger. Or, you can give the “okay” sign to say that you’re ready to go ahead. Sometimes it’s hard to speak while the dentist is working with tools in your mouth, so some planned signals will help you to feel more in control.

4. Choose your clothing

Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. Some people feel more relaxed in their favorite sweater, or wrapped up in a cozy scarf. Anxiety can make you feel cooler, so an extra layer might be needed to help you stay warm during the appointment. Also, the more physically relaxed you are during the visit, the easier it will be to stay mentally relaxed, so choose an outfit where you can put your hands in your pockets, tuck them into your sleeves, or rest them comfortably on your midsection.

5. Exercise before your appointment

Exercise is a natural way to boost endorphin, reduce sensitivity to pain, and increase the flow of relaxing hormones and neurotransmitters, so plan some physical activity the evening before or the morning of your appointment. Make sure to leave yourself enough time afterwards to cool off, shower, and rest. Exercise is good for your health, and it will also help you to feel more relaxed at your next dental visit.

6. Avoid coffee and other stimulants

Caffeine can trigger or aggravate anxiety, so skip the coffee, tea, and cola drinks before your appointment. Try drinking water or herbal tea, going for a brisk walk, or taking some quiet time instead.

7. Talk to a professional about medication options

If nothing else works, or if you feel you need some extra help staying calm at the dentist, ask your doctor or dentist about options for medications. Your health care provider may be able to provide an anxiety-relieving medication that you can take when you need it. Remember to ask about side-effects, in case the medication causes drowsiness or reduced mental clarity. You might need someone to pick you up after your appointment.

Altogether, these tips should help you to reduce anxiety and feel more confident about your upcoming dental visit. Remember that some nervousness is absolutely normal and that you deserve to have a safe and comfortable experience. Many people will never feel entirely comfortable at the dentist, and as long as you can get the care you need with a minimal amount of stress, you’re doing fine. So plan ahead, talk to your dentist, and then do your best!