Even if you realise that you’re not alone with your fears, and that things might not be quite as horrific as you imagine them to be (with the right dentist, that is!), actually making the decision to see a dentist is a different story altogether.
The possibility of ending up in a dental practice (or office, depending on where you’re from) is simply too horrific to contemplate! Why bother when there are tons of viable alternatives and easy ways out, such as jumping off a bridge, railtracks, or carbon monoxide poisoning?
Possibly because these alternatives don’t sound like much fun, either. So here are some ideas which might help with making a – perhaps life-changing – decision.
It’s Good to Talk
It’s normal to go through a period of intense anxiety and panic while you’re struggling to make the decision to see a dentist. One of the most important things you can do during this time is to talk to someone you can trust about your fears. Oftentimes, people find that friends or loved ones are far more understanding than they thought.
On the other hand, someone who has never experienced dental phobia may not be able to understand how terrified you are (or why you are terrified). So choose someone whom you believe to be an empathetic person to confide in.
If you’ve had very bad experiences with dentists in the past, another person might be able to put them into perspective for you. Many dental phobics do not realize that what has happened to them is not “the norm”, and that dentists and/or dentistry does not have to be horrific.
If you cannot find anyone to confide in, or if you’d like to talk to people who are or who have been in your position, why not join our Dental Phobia Support Forum?
Know What’s Out There
This is what Dental Fear Central is all about! Knowledge can be power, and hopefully you’ll find some ideas on this website that you like and that you feel might help you. The Common Fears section contains a lot of practical tips that people have mentioned over the years on our forum. If there’s anything you find too detailed or off-putting (and there’s bound to be!), do stop reading. Keep to things that are “safe” for your own personal comfort level.
Reading through past threads on discussion and support groups, and especially other people’s success stories, can also help a lot. But sometimes, you’ll come across posts which describe bad experiences and these can make your fears worse.
For many people, reading other people’s success stories is perhaps the most powerful motivator for taking action:
“I am beyond happy that I’ve found this forum…it has given me the courage to do things I never thought I would. Reading other peoples stories and drawing from their strengths and knowing they are going through the same fears as me has been beyond helpful!!”
“I could not have done any of this without all of you sharing your fears, experiences and success stories.”
Take Your Time!
Don’t rush into anything! You’ve probably waited for so long, a few weeks here or there are not going to make a huge difference. Your psychological well-being is paramount. A wrong choice of dentist at this point in time, just because you’re in a rush, is not a good idea!
If you’ve come across this site because you’re in acute, strong pain, you may have an infection which needs to be treated. Don’t delay – infections can potentially be dangerous (and painful in the extreme!). You don’t need to go to a dentist to get an antibiotic. You can explain the situation to your doctor. Alternatively, if your doctor isn’t understanding, you can go to the emergency department of your local hospital. They will be able to prescribe antibiotics. (If you already have a particular dentist in mind, someone who is good with phobic patients, that’s a different story, and you may want to see them for emergency treatment.)
If you want to overcome your fears, it’s really important that you find a sympathetic dentist who’ll be able to put your fears at rest – rather than reinforcing them. Unless you live out in the sticks, you will have a lot of choice when deciding on a dentist.
Note: Some people really do live “out in the sticks” and have no real choice of dentists – if you are forced to do with “what’s there”, premedication, relaxation techniques, or bringing a person you trust along may help somewhat. Or post on our message board for support.
Create a “Can’t Lose” Situation
“This tip was the perhaps the most important piece of advice which enabled me to make an appointment… This may or may not apply to you, depending on your particular brand of phobia. Here it goes: make an appointment just for a chat. Promise yourself that you won’t go anywhere near the chair while you’re there – you’re simply checking out the dentist to see if you feel comfortable with them.
This puts you in a “can’t lose” situation – if you find that you don’t like the dentist and that the whole thing is still far too scary to contemplate, you’re in no worse a position than the situation you’re in now.”
One caveat: many people are literally “paralysed with fear” upon being presented with a dentist and will simply “obey orders”. If this is the case for you, you could bring a trustworthy friend who’ll stop you from jumping straight into the chair and remind you of your original plans. Or even better, e-mail or write to potential dentists first and see how they reply, and get to know them a little before you ever meet them in person (more about this on the finding a sympathetic dentist page).
One step at a time
Concentrate on the tasks at hand. The tasks are:
- to identify the things you fear
- to find a potential dentist
- to make the first appointment
- to turn up for the appointment
- to convey your fears to the dentist you have chosen (either when you meet them or before you meet them, via e-mail or letter), and
- to assess whether the dentist is right for you.
It is tempting to think much further ahead and imagine all sorts of terrifying scenarios. Unless you break up the problem into smaller, solvable steps, it’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task! Focus on taking one step at a time.