I am new to this forum. I first discovered dentalfearcentral.org in autumn 2011, but since I was not yet having obvious problems, I was not ready to visit a dentist at the time. However, having recently cured an early-stage cavity with baking soda and peroxide, I knew my days of avoiding dentistry were very likely numbered.
The reasons for my dental phobia are multiple. I have had anxiety disorders since kindergarten, and as an adult was also diagnosed with ADD and "sensory integration issues." In addition, I was prone to frequent dental decay. My first dentist, "Dr. No," was not especially patient with children or sensitive to their needs. Although he never actually said, "You have bad teeth and it's your fault, therefore you deserve to suffer," this was certainly evident in his subtext. I was not physically aggressive with Dr. No but often cried, usually due to ineffective local anesthesia. Once when he ordered me to stop crying, I replied, "I can't help it," meaning both that I could not help crying and that I could not help having bad teeth. His response? "Yes, you can." When I was eight, Dr. No dismissed me from his practice.
My next dentist, Dr. Maybe, had an improved chairside manner compared to Dr. No, but his anesthesia technique was no better. Unlike Dr. No, he used nitrous oxide. My first experience with N2O at age nine resulted in a classic "bad trip." Shortly after the mask was applied, the dental assistants turned upside down and the room quickly spun around 2-3 times. I thought I was losing my mind, but stayed silent because my mother had warned me that if I did not "behave" with Dr. Maybe, I would have to start seeing a pedodontist, and the closest one was located over 50 miles away. Although I never had a bad N2O trip again, it never helped me relax, either.
Every time I saw Dr. Maybe for a "routine" checkup, he found at least one new cavity. This, of course, meant drilling, which in turn meant inadequate pain control and sometimes a fear of drill mutilation and/or suffocation. Whenever I had a dental appointment, I started worrying at least two days in advance. The night before, I dreaded tomorrow and often had trouble sleeping. On the way to the appointment, I would look at people in other cars and envy everyone who was going anywhere else. Headed toward Dr. Maybe's office at age 11 or 12, I made a promise to myself: "When I grow up, I'm never going to a dentist unless I absolutely must!"
After leaving my parents' home, I did not see a dentist for several years. A portion of an upper first molar broke in my early 20s, but within days, the sharp edges wore down and I learned to live with the damage. When I was 27, the same tooth broke again and abscessed. Because it was a weekend and I had neither dentist, dental insurance (I live in the U.S.), nor courage, I treated myself only with OTC painkillers and a topical oral analgesic. After the infection cleared, I grew a pair of. . .ovaries and made an appointment with Dr. New, a nearby dentist who advertised herself as specializing in phobic patients. Dr. New extracted what remained of the broken molar and identified 4-5 other teeth that needed drilling. Over the course of the next few weeks, I let her.
Dr. New was friendly and said I was generally well-behaved for a phobic patient. Noting that I was prone to cavities but had minimal plaque accumulation even after years away from dentistry, she suggested that I had acidic saliva (take that, Dr. No!). However, like Drs. No and Maybe before her, pain control was an issue. At one point she suspected I might have variant anatomy. I liked Dr. New, but not well enough to begin going for regular checkups. Two years later she moved her office from downtown to a suburb that was inconvenient for me (I don't drive), and eventually she moved out of state.
Over the next 16 years, I occasionally considered visiting a dentist for preventive care. . .and always decided against it. In my life, I never had a preventive visit that didn't lead to drilling, pain, and fear/anxiety. I practiced what I considered aggressive oral hygiene. In 2003 I eliminated most sugar from my diet in order to maintain moderate weight loss, but knew this also helped me stay out of dental offices.
Autumn 2011: Once again, it's time for benefits enrollment at work. For a married couple, the dental premiums are high with a questionable cost/benefit ratio, over $500 per year with a maximum per-person annual benefit of $1,500. Due to my recent self-cured cavity, I know I will probably need dental work in the coming year, and if I do, $1,500 is unlikely to cover it, especially considering that the dental plan has a reputation of not being generous when anything more than a routine checkup or amalgam filling is needed. I search the internet for alternatives and learn about Brighter.com, a new dental-discount plan that received media coverage from some reputable sources. As a phobic, I certainly wouldn't let just any dentist touch me, but based on their websites, a few Brighter dentists in my area seem like people I could trust. I am particularly impressed by the biography of one Dr. Yes, whose office is located reasonably close to where I work. Brighter's enrollment fee is low and membership can be activated at any time, so I decide to forego my employer's dental plan and enroll in Brighter should the need arise.
May 2012: Eating lunch at my desk, I lose a large filling from a first molar which has been broken for several years. There's no alternative now: I must visit a dentist. Later that day, I purchase a Brighter membership. The next afternoon, I call and make an appointment with Dr. Yes, warning his office assistant that I am phobic.
Unlike some phobics, sitting in the chair and having x-rays does not particularly bother me (nor do needles, as I am a regular blood donor). What worries me are the images and where they will lead.
"Welcome back to dentistry!" Dr. Yes's introduction is not what I expected, nor is it unwelcome. In general, he is
professional and friendly without being condescending, and I am grateful for his sense of humour. Some of the news from the x-rays is bad, but Dr. Yes communicates results in a manner that is direct, succinct, and casual. In brief, I need three crowns and one filling, and have gum recession in one area from aggressive brushing that requires the services of a periodontist.
After a brief discussion, I agree to two crowns, one on the broken tooth and on a tooth at risk for serious infection. With Dr. Yes's approval, the third crown and the filling can wait for now. As for periodontal treatment, this may need to be delayed several months, both for financial reasons and because I will need to gradually adjust to the idea of having a portion of my soft palate grafted onto my gumline while I am fully conscious.
To be continued. . .