Fear of Needing Extensive Treatment

“I’m petrified at what the dentist will find. I cannot cope with hearing ‘the diagnosis’. I feel so sick at the thought I could cry.”

“I’m terrified I’ve left it too late and the dentist will want to pull all my teeth. I don’t want people to see me toothless.”

Fear of “the diagnosis” – of finding out what or how much needs to be done and of not being able to cope with the news – is a very common fear.

If you have avoided dentists for a long time, you may need a lot of treatment. But then again, you may not. You’ll come across a lot of posts on discussion boards where people were pleasantly surprised at how little treatment they needed, even after a very long absence (several decades). It used to be common that people needed fillings every time they went to the dentist, but things like fluoride toothpastes and fluoridated water supplies and drinks have led to a decrease in tooth decay in the general population. When you suffer with dental phobia, you tend to assume worst-case scenarios, which oftentimes are not justified.

Nowadays, lots of treatments are available that can save teeth which used to be deemed unsaveable in the past. Even badly broken down teeth can often be saved. There are also better and less invasive treatments available for things like gum disease.

Some people will need extensive work or dentures in order to get their mouths healthy again. Most of the time, this would be very apparent to you and those around you, and the prospect of being able to smile again and no longer being in pain can be a great motivator for getting things sorted.

Many people who have been hiding their smiles for years feel that getting dentures has dramatically improved their quality of life.

Still, the fear of “the diagnosis” can be overwhelming and prevent people from seeking help. It is true that the prospect of not being able to cope with “the bad news” (imagined or real) can be very frightening.

Tips:

  • If you don’t think you could cope with “the diagnosis” the very first time you see a dentist, you should let your dentist know that you don’t want to know just yet. Some people want an honest assessment of all their dental needs straightaway, but some people with a dental phobia don’t. If that’s the case for you, ask your dentist to break “the bad news” gently, maybe at a subsequent appointment, when rapport and trust have been built.
  • You could also have just an x-ray or just a quick look-see during the first appointment (if you want to take it further than a chat), and make it clear that you don’t want to fully know about the condition of your mouth just yet. Let your dentist know that you’re scared to find out.
  • Many people worry that they won’t be able to finance the dental treatment they need, and that the costs will be exorbitant. While dental treatment can be expensive, there are usually different solutions available to fit different budgets. Treatment can often be split into phases and completed as you can afford it. Financing dental treatment can be a particular headache if you live in a country where there is no (or not much of a) social health care system in place. If you’re in the US, check out our page on financing dental treatment.
  • “Not knowing” and constantly worrying about what may or may not be wrong is a lot more stressful than knowing what’s up and how it can be fixed. Most people feel a great sense of relief once they know what’s wrong and how it can be put right again. Having a plan of action can make you feel in charge of your life again.
  • A lot of people with bad teeth are scared that they’ll have teeth removed and people will see them with missing teeth. This is not so. In almost all cases, a temporary denture (sometimes referred to as “flipper”) can be made. You can wear this straight away and nobody will ever know that a tooth or teeth are missing. The same goes for full dentures – it is almost always possible to make “immediate dentures”. It is very unlikely that you will have to go toothless (although in rare cases, medical conditions may make this necessary).
  • Knowing that you’re not alone with your fear and that other people have felt the same way and came out at the other end can also help. That person you’re feeling jealous of right now could be you!