It’s a good thing your dentist loves what they do, despite the way you feel about their job—because sometimes they’re the only line of defense between your mouth and bad breath, cavities, gingivitis, even gum disease. That’s why it’s so important that you make twice-yearly visits to the dentist a priority, no matter how much you dread going; not only will they clean and polish your teeth, they’ll make sure you’re keeping up your dental hygiene at home in the most effective way (ahem, flossing).
But your dentist knows you’d rather be… pretty much anywhere else when you’re sitting in their chair, and they’re aware that some people don’t take advice very well when someone’s hands and several sharp, shiny tools are in their mouth. But they do have a few things to say that you need to hear. Get ready for some real talk:
Dentists talk a lot considering their audience has a mouth full of sharp tools. “It’s like a monologue,” says Lopez Howell. “We don’t expect you to talk back. We don’t expect you to move your head.”
For most responses, a thumbs up or thumbs down will suffice; if you’re really moved to talk back, most dentists will simply wait until you’re done talking to continue with the cleaning.
One of the first things the dentist is going to ask you about at your check-up is your flossing habits. Don’t waste time pretending you do it if you don’t, because “your gums don’t lie,” says Lopez Howell. “If your gums are bleeding, if you have some buildup underneath the gums or even above the gums, then it’s a sign that you’re either not doing it at all or you need to be encouraged to do it in a way that’s more effective.”
Basically, if it’s obvious that you’re not flossing, you’re going to get schooled. So don’t bother lying.
When the dental hygienist has the suction tool in your mouth during cleanings, let them use it. “Usually during a cleaning, it’s not just your spit in your mouth,” Mazen Natour, D.M.D., a Manhattan-based prosthodontist. During cleanings, your mouth is also full of water from the cavitron (the ultrasonic scaler that the hygienist uses to clean your teeth), blood from inflamed gums, and tartar debris that the hygienist has scraped off of your teeth.
“Although all of this isn’t necessarily harmful, I believe the majority of patients would find it gross to swallow—if it were me, I would just let the hygienist suction whatever fluid is building up,” Natour says.
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You know how much people love a good zit video, and dentists feel the same way when it comes to cleaning out the gunk between your teeth. “For some reason it sounds evil, but yes, at least to me, it brings some kind of satisfaction and the ‘Yes! I got it!’ feeling,” admits Natour.
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No one likes to be stuck in the dentist’s chair, but fidgeting around slows down the whole process. “Some people bob their knees or just sort of move their legs around and they don’t realize that it moves their whole body,” says Lopez Howell. “So if we’re drilling, we’ll pause for a second and wait for them to settle.”
Remember, there are a lot of sharp tools near your face, so if you’re full of nervous energy, try deep breathing instead.