It is no secret that I am a huge fan of Chinese Medicine for cultivating optimal wellness and addressing pretty much any health concern that crops up. Chinese Medicine healing modalities I use include acupuncture, cupping, gua sha (fascia scraping to remove stagnation), tui na massage, and custom herbal medicine. So when I was feeling some extreme anxiety and dread related to a necessary dental appointment to repair a cracked tooth and old filling, I turned to my acupuncturist for help, and also pulled a few things out of my own healing toolbox.
When I shared all of this on my Instagram stories (follow me if you aren't already! I share so much exclusive content over there) I got a TON of questions and feedback so I wanted to share more details about both my process for choosing a dentist, what type of filling I got, and how I conquered my debilitating anxiety about the process.
How To Find a Holistic Dentist
I am extremely distrustful of the conventional Western medicine machine in general after numerous horrific experiences across my lifetime. I prefer to opt out of that system entirely, the same way I did from the conventional diet and lifestyle. But, it is important to have certain tests and checkups, and luckily we have options both for MDs as well as dentists to find practitioners who are more forward-thinking and who utilize holistic methods.
I recommend using all of these avenues to search for a holistic or biological dentist:
- Use Google to search for "holistic dentist" and "biologic(al) dentist" with your city name
- Do the same thing in Google Maps
- Search the Holistic Dental Association
- Search the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine
- Search the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT)
I get totally different results when using all of those methods. After reading websites, making calls, and checking with insurance, I found a dentist that I trusted based on the information on her website and also the information I got from the employees whenI called with a million questions.
I hope you are able to find someone good who isn't too far away from your home!
Epinephrine-Free Local Anesthetic
Something to be aware of is the fact that the standard local anesthetic used in dentistry contains not just a numbing agent like lidocaine, but also the hormone epinephrine (aka adrenaline). All it takes is a quick search to see that adverse reactions to the epinephrine are common. I can't count how many times I saw people say they felt like they were "losing their minds" due to the epinephrine causing sheer panic.
Um, yeah, I definitely did NOT need any extra epinephrine for my appointment!
The reason it is added is because it is a vasoconstrictor (narrows the blood vessels) so it keeps the actual anesthetic drug present in the tissue longer.
Luckily they gave me zero resistance at my holistic dentist's office when I asked for the no-epi shot. The technicians even told me that when they use the version with epi that it can take longer for numbing to happen and sometimes they have to give extra shots.
Here's my experience with the no-epi version: they told me I numbed very quickly. The numbness did not start to wear off for 2 hours. It didn't wear off all the way for 4. So.....unless you are having a LOT of work done, the no-epi is probably fine! Also, if the effects start to wear off and you need another shot, you will barely feel it since you'll already be mostly anesthetized.
And just for your information: if you have work done on the bottom jaw like me, you have to have a full nerve block and half your tongue and lower lip will go numb and heavy. Upper jaw work can be done on a tooth by tooth basis.
Clifford Materials Reactivity Testing (CMRT)
My dentist, and most holistic or biologic dentists, will offer this option to test you for reactions to common dental materials. It is pricey, $300, plus your dentist will likely also charge a fee to discuss the results with you, mine charges $100, and it requires a blood draw which will also cost you something.
From their website: "CMRT is a blood based screening test evaluating a patient's systemic sensitivity to 94 chemical groups. The dental screening panel correlates these systemic sensitivities to formularies of more than 17,204 products listed by trade name and manufacturer and divided into 36 categories."
I had to decline the test because I could not afford it. I am no longer highly reactive to things in my environment or to foods, so I felt it was OK to opt out, however I wish I could have done it! If you are generally highly reactive to things in your environment and/or foods it may not be a bad idea to budget for this if you need any dental work done.
BPA-Free Composite Resin Fillings
So what kind of filling did I get if I didn't have the CMRT done? A BPA-free composite resin filling. My dentist assured me that they use the most holistic option available, even though NO filling material is 100% "natural" or truly ideal.
The scientific literature is mixed in terms of possible health effects from this kind of filling, but the consensus among holistic dentists is that this is the lesser evil available compared to mercury amalgam fillings.
I am comfortable with this option since I actually had a crack in my tooth (that had also cracked my old composite filling) and had some sensitivity and pain in that tooth. I needed to get it fixed, and wanted to avoid an invasive and expensive crown, or an emergency situation in which the crack deepened causing excruciating pain.
The best type of filling is.....no filling. And if I had tooth decay, I would have done a tooth remineralization protocol to attempt to heal the cavity. But, there is nothing I could have done for the crack other than a filling. Read more about remineralizing teeth here.
Acupuncture For Anxiety
I love acupuncture. No matter what type of symptom or health problem crops up, acupuncture has always been able to help me. (Read about how I'm healing uterine fibroids with Chinese medicine here).
Before my first treatment, I was nervous about the needles, but they're really not a big deal. Most of the time I don't even feel them going in. They are as thin as a hair! Sometimes they can cause aching when they are inserted into a really "junky" area (my super technical term for it) but it quickly subsides and that area will feel SO MUCH BETTER after the treatment.
When I saw my acupuncturist the day before my dentist appointment, I told him how anxious I was about it, so he did a treatment to help calm me down. And boy did it ever work! The sinking feeling of dread I had had in my solar plexus went away, and so did the fluttering in my chest under my sternum.
Just like with finding a holistic dentist, I have a few suggestions for finding an acupuncturist near you:
- Google "acupuncturist" or "chinese medicine doctor" and your city. If you are looking for low-cost options, include "community acupuncture" in your query
- Do the same thing in Google Maps
- Search the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) directory
- Verify that any practitioner that comes up when you search Google is actually accredited by the NCCAOM by searching for them by name at the link above. I do not recommend seeing non-accredited practitioners who have taken a weekend course in "dry needling" unless you are only looking for physical relief for a joint injury or something similar. Chiropractors and even MDs can get this kind of training and it is NOT anywhere near the same thing as the process of becoming a Chinese medicine doctor (which takes 3 years and is as rigorous as conventional medical school).
Acupuncture is holistic and treats your whole physical body as well as your emotional state. The more information you can give your doctor, the better. Part of why I love Chinese medicine is because it recognizes that we are all individuals and that root causes can vary widely from person to person. If multiple people with the same symptom or diagnosis go to the same doctor, they will likely all receive different treatments due to differing constitutions and root causes.
How To use Ear Seeds on Auricular Acupuncture Points for Anxiety
NATURAL #ANTIANXIETY METHODS - I’ve got a dentist appt this afternoon to redo the only filling I’ve ever had and I was having some major anxiety about it. I have #MTHFR and am extremely sensitive to drugs, so I’m most concerned about how I will react to the local anesthetic. I did learn that most dental local anesthetics have added #epinephrine (#adrenaline, y’all) since it is a vasoconstrictor and it keeps the lidocaine present in the tissue longer. Um, I have enough adrenaline already, I am definitely asking for the no-adrenaline shot 😬. … I got #acupuncture yesterday and let my #acupuncturist know about my anxiety so he did a treatment that really made me feel like a totally different person. He also applied an #EarSeed to the point known as #ShenMen on my ear. This is a Master Point (which means it is EXTRA potent) and is useful for any kind of #anxiety, #depression, #stress, and is even #antiinflammatory. The beauty of ear seeds is that the effect is prolonged. You can wear them for up to a week before they fall off. You can press them as needed to activate their action on the body. I am going to make sure I let the dentist know I will need to be able to reach one of my ears to press on it during my filling 😂. I will also press it in the car before I go in while doing deep breathing, probably some #yoga alternate nostril breathing since it is so calming. … You can use ear seeds at home, although I recommend having them applied by an acupuncturist first so you can understand the process better and also how they affect you. The ear is a map of the body, so any ailment can be treated with ear seeds or ear acupuncture (also called #auricularacupuncture). Click the link in profile to check them out on Amazon. http://amzn.to/2ypWVQp … The #passionflower is a potent anti-anxiety herb that acts like our relaxation neurotransmitter #GABA. I just read a study that looked at using it as a pre-medication before dental procedures and they found a significant reduction in anxiety. I use it at night when my mind won’t stop racing and I need to get to sleep. I’m going to take it 90 mins before my appt per the study I read! … How do you deal with anxiety?
After the needles were out, my doctor also placed ear seeds on the Master Point on the ear known for its strong effects to combat anxiety, stress, depression, even inflammation: Shen Men. After placing the seeds, he massaged them to activate the point. I won't lie: when you have an ear seed on a point that needs it, it is going to HURT. That's how you know you placed it correctly ;-) But it is worth the 30 seconds of discomfort to achieve lasting effects.
Ear seeds are actual seeds, typically from the Vaccaria flower, on small pieces of surgical tape. You can apply them with your fingers or use tweezers or a special probe designed to make accurate placement easy.
I always just use my fingers and do it by feel, but you may need a friend to help you apply yours. It can be tricky (especially for me since I have so many piercings to navigate!)
The morning of my appointment while I was sharing information on my Instagram stories, I did some more reading about ear seeds and saw the Tranquilizer Point referenced as being another excellent one for anxiety. It is nicknamed the "valium point" since it is so calming.
No exaggeration, after reading about it I massaged both points just using my fingers for about 60 seconds and I seriously did feel like I had popped a valium. So I contacted my doctor to ask if it was OK for me to add that seed, and he said have it, so I did. All I have to say is WOW. I mean, I was already a believer in the power of all things Chinese medicine, but that point in particular had a profound effect on me. I was so relaxed and even a little drowsy, but that point combined with Shen Men had me in good spirits and laughing easily and feeling NO ANXIETY.
I got my ear seeds from my doctor, but you can pick up a kit on Amazon that includes seeds, tweezers, a probe, plus an instruction manual. Score!
In Chinese auricular therapy, the ear is actually a map of the body, so you can stimulate specific points and notice an effect on the corresponding point of the body. I have used this many times when I have had pain in a specific location. It is especially helpful for uterine cramps.
Passion Flower Extract For Anxiety
Even though my ear seeds had me feeling good, I wanted to add an extra layer of anxiety-fighting protection since I didn't know how agitated I might get once I arrived at the dentist's office, so I took some Passionflower Extract.
I have been a long-time fan of this lovely extract thanks to my friend Beverly Meyer. She's blogged quite a bit about our primary inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. Passion flower extract is well-known for it's anti-anxiety and calming effects, and I have used it to help calm my mind so I can prepare for sleep at night. The purported mechanism for its effects is that it is actually a GABA-ergic compound (meaning: activates our GABA receptors). For reference, benzodiazepine drugs like Valium or Klonopin are GABA-ergic substances.
Having formerly relied upon daily benzodaizepines for anxiety, I can say that taking passion flower extract has a very similar feeling to me.
Before I took it, I took a quick peek in PubMed to see if it had ever been studied to help with dentist appointment anxiety. Lo and behold, it has! It's a small study (63 people) but the results are clear: "Results indicated that administration of Passion flower, as a premedication, is significantly effective in reducing the anxiety."
I found a related article that looked at using it as a premedication before surgery, and they also found significant effects: "In outpatient surgery, administration of oral Passiflora incarnata as a premedication reduces anxiety without inducing sedation."
It was the icing on the cake for me at this appointment. I took it 90 minutes before my appointment per the first study I linked above, and it was perfect.
I use an alcohol-free version of Passionflower extract that you can find on Amazon:
Meditation and Breathing Exercises for Anxiety
I've talked a lot about meditation and mindfulness on my social media and some on my blog (scroll down to the brain meme). I really should talk about it more since it has been so profoundly helpful!
The more you practice meditation, even if you only do it for 2-5 minutes per day when you first start, the bigger the results you will see. You can think of your daily practice like making small deposits in an amazing savings account for your health.
All you have to do to meditate is sit in a comfortable position (in a chair, in an easy cross-legged posture) and quiet your mind. The goal is to stop focusing on your thoughts and to be totally present with your body. You can notice thoughts, acknowledge them, but then you let them float away like a fluffy cloud. Focus on your breathing. Make it deep and slow, and draw it out. I love this quote from The Miracle of Mindfulness:
I have certainly noticed that it gets easier and easier for me to take control of my breathing if I get angered, agitated, saddened, or frightened. When our sympathetic nervous system is engaged (fight or flight) our breathing rate increases along with our heart rate. The easiest way to combat that and to work to engage your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system is to control your breathing. It is easy to let it get out of control if you are not aware of it, but as soon as you notice your breath and make an effort to slow it down, you will absolutely notice other physiological and emotional changes.
Here are some of my favorite books about meditation for beginners:
I also practice pranayama, or yogic breathing exercises. Two of my favorites are alternate nostril breathing and even breathing. I did alternate nostril breathing in the car before I went into the office, and practiced even breathing throughout the procedure.
How to do alternate nostril breathing:
- Use your right hand and place your index and middle finger gently between your eyebrows.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale through your left nostril, then inhale through the left nostril.
- Close the left nostril with either your ring or pinky finger, then exhale through your right nostril, then inhale through the right nostril.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale through the left. This completes one round of alternate nostril breathing.
- Repeat 6-12 rounds, or until you feel calm.
How To Do Even Breathing:
- It is extremely simple: match the length of your inhale to the length of your exhale, so that they are even. You can count "one one thousand, two one thousand...." to help pace the counts if you like.
- If your breathing rate is very fast due to an emotional situation, you can begin by making it 4 counts in each direction.
- As you calm down, extend it to 6, 8, 10, 12, or more, if it feels right!
- Focus on keeping the breath steady and even, and use your belly to breathe, not your chest.
Remember to stop and breathe normally if you feel light headed from any breathing exercise.
Both of these are great for getting into a meditative state since they require a bit of extra attention on your breath in order to do them correctly. They are both wonderful breathing exercises for reducing stress and anxiety and for getting out of your head.