Ever since you were a kid, you’ve known this: there’s a comfort that settles through you right before getting dental x-rays. You notice when the heavy shield gets draped over your shoulders and tummy that it’s a bit easier to relax, to open your mouth and let the dental professional twist things in your mouth at weird angles.
That comfort is called Deep Touch Pressure. It’s what swaddled babies feel with a tightly-wrapped blanket, what dogs experience when they wear a Thundershirt, and what up until recently has been known as a soothing technique primarily for kids and adults who are on the autism spectrum.
When Deep Touch Pressure is applied over a wide area, it switches the body from running its sympathetic nervous system to its parasympathetic nervous system. Deep touch pressure gives a sense that it’s okay to leave the “flight or fight” mode and settle into a “rest and digest” mode instead.
The sympathetic nervous system engages when you anticipate anything that is challenging, scary, or painful, while the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for releasing feel-good endorphins, relaxing muscles, and creating a sense of peace and calm.
To review, then, this person has their Sympathetic Nervous System fully engaged:
Next, look at this little puppy enjoying its Parasympathetic Nervous System response:
No rhetorical questions here. You know you could just be the puppy forever.
There are stories like this one from Dr. Spindel’s blog that tell of patients wanting to keep the lead vest on for their entire appointment as a sort of security blanket. Only unlike her, once the x-rays are taken, most of us are nakedly shocked back into anxious uncertainty with the removal of the deep touch pressure feeling.
You know exactly where this is going, right?
More than just a heavy Snuggie.
Pretty much every retail and online shop sells Deep Touch Pressure products now. This therapy is found in the form of weighted blankets which are much more comfortable and heavier than lead shields so yay!
If you’re a patient who gets a little anxious going to the dentist and you already have a weighted blanket that you shelled out $200 for when they first became available, try bringing the blanket to your next appointment to see if it helps.
And for those dental professionals reading this, you might consider getting a few weighted blankets for your office. You can find them as low as $50 each but current pricing hovers around $75 these days. Here’s an inexpensive fifteen-pounder seen in the local warehouse store this weekend:
Need something a little more rugged? These weighted blankets from DentaCalm are available in different sizes, can be wiped clean, and come in two colors:
Dental fear is real.
Even people who have been going to the dentist forever get nervous sometimes, like it wells up from some organic “gonna get you” place in our primitive perimeter warning system. Deep touch pressure helps to inhibit dental anxiety. Except for the anxiety within the dentists when slinking into a dental chair to get their teeth cleaned when there’s an opening in the schedule. Their stress comes from the fear that they’re about to be exposed as a fraud by their hygienist if the dentist’s gums bleed even one little speck during their preventive care. Sorry, the weighted blanket is simply not going to make up for not flossing.
Feeling calm is better.
Instead of shaming dentists for their questionable home care, then, let’s all get the word out that weighted blankets are more than a fad, or that they’re used as merely an excuse to stay in bed longer in the morning.
Worried about the stigma or mood-altering effects of using laughing gas (nitrous oxide)? Weighted blankets create a similar sense of well-being without masks, drugs, or that loopy feeling. Many practices have already discovered the benefits of weighted blankets, and feature this amenity on their websites as one of the ways they make dental visits easier.
Please share this link with your dental professionals, your patients, and your friends. And as always, DentalBuzz does not use affiliate links or accept ad payments, so feel free to browse the resources list and share your experiences with weighted blankets (or any good deals you discover!) in the comments below.
Resources and further reading:
Can I please wear the heavy vest: https://lspindelnycdds.blogspot.com/2019/05/can-i-please-wear-heavy-vest.html
The Allure of the Weighted Blanket: https://www.brainfacts.org/Thinking-Sensing-and-Behaving/Sleep/2018/The-Allure-of-the-Weighted-Blanket-112918
Penn Medicine: More than just a fad: https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2019/february/weighted-blankets
Sommerfly Wipe-Clean Relaxer: https://www.sommerfly.com/collections/wipe-clean-collection/