Inspired by Milan Cvitkovic’s article, Things You’re Allowed to Do.

Going to the dentist can be uncomfortable. Some amount of this is unavoidable.

Yet most dentists and staff care a lot about patient comfort. Tell them what you need, and you may very well get it!

The hardest part is figuring out what’s on the menu. Below are some items that I’ve discovered.


  • available options may vary a lot by dentist
  • options sometimes have tradeoffs, which you should discuss with your dentist

You can control the suction

Every time I go to the dentist, there is a segment featuring a water hose, a suction hose, and a third or fourth bonus tool in my mouth.

I find this uncomfortable for many reasons:

  • the suction hose is badly positioned and water is accumulating
  • the suction hose hits the back of my throat and I gag and cough
  • I am nervously anticipating any of the above

Luckily, if I ask, I can hold the suction hose myself. I can position it exactly as needed for my comfort.

Dentists seem to like this too since it frees up one of their hands.

You can get smaller x-ray films

I have a small jaw and find the bitewing x-rays to be super large and uncomfortable. Sometimes they make me gag, and that usually means I am more likely to gag on the next try. I don’t like it.

It turns out that my dentist has smaller bitewings on hand. They are designed for children but work for adults too, and I find them to be much more comfortable.

The main downside is that they might make it a bit harder for the dentist to get the specific images they want.

You can refuse polish

I don’t like the feeling of having my teeth polished, and often the sickly artificial flavour gives me a headache afterward*.

Usually the stains on my teeth are mild and have already been removed during scaling**.

So do I really need to have my teeth polished?

* I find that flavourless polish also helps here.

** Some people loathe scaling and tolerate polishing. Maybe you can trade more of one for less of the other?

Misc. roundup

  • ask for different painkiller options to get something more personally effective or less aversive (e.g. needles)
  • decline painkillers to save time during mild procedures
  • ask for water or a tissue at any time
  • ask to pause for a minute
  • decline the crappy free toothbrush they give you at the end
  • ask for a free brushhead that works with the electric toothbrush you use at home