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Defeating Dental anxiety (again?)

J

JaySee19

Member
Joined
Jun 17, 2020
Messages
30
Location
Germany
Time to introduce myself as I’ve been lurking here for a while. And first of all thanks to all the members and dentists on here for their insights and ideas. It was so good to see that I’m not alone in my fear of the dentist. And even to discover that in comparison to many I am not actually that bad. Some of you are soooo brave. Plus I’m in a very privileged position as I live in Germany, can pick and choose from a number of dentists within walking distance, and the German health service covers at least some of the cost. I also made one of my rare intelligent decisions about 20 years ago and got myself private insurance, specifically for dental issues. They may kick me out soon, though!
Dental phobia/anxiety has accompanied me since the days of the school dentist, late 60s, early 70s in England. Those guys were sadists in a big way and there is nothing worse than some ancient guy drilling into a tooth while you’re in agony and telling you to pull yourself together, he’s nearly finished. When he hasn’t. He’s lying. It’s very hard to trust after that. I came out of those sessions in shock.
Added to that my mother was seriously dental phobic. I never knew her go to the dentist and she certainly didn’t take us. Over the years her teeth rotted in her jaw and I was always horrified when I returned home for a visit to see the state they were in. At the end they were just black stumps and she talked with a lisp. She must have been in so much pain but it was not a subject we ever addressed. This was odd as both parents had a medical background, she was a nurse, Dad was a doctor and they both kept our bodies fit and healthy. But not our teeth.
So not a good start.
After the school dentist I decided I “hated“ dentists and wouldn’t go. There were blocks of time where I did get my teeth fixed though - my father arranged appointments before university. And my husband caught me walking round the living room late one night 13 years later, in agony with an abscess, and made an appointment with his dentist. Strange to say if an appointment exists I do go. I can’t bring myself to make that call on my own though.
After my husband‘s actions I got my teeth sorted and was actually very good. The kids were young and I didn’t want to pass my fear on to them, so I forced myself to go to our annual family check-ups. They weren’t fooled - I think they could smell my terror - but neither of them have developed my deep-seated fear.
But then we moved house, the young dentist who had sorted me after my abscess left the practice. The new guy was competent, but we didn’t click, one year I put off making the call for an appointment, then the next year.
And wham, I’m right back there.
I cannot pick up the phone. I go out of the room if the talk turns to dentists and teeth. Toothpaste adverts make me quake inside. The thought of going to the dentist, the smells, the chair, the helplessness - I can‘t face that thought. My mind sheers away, I am in full avoidance mode. Things start to go wrong in my mouth. What felt like a piece of nut is a chunk of tooth. Two months later the opposite tooth breaks off. But nobody can see, so it’s OK. The missing pieces feel huge in my mouth, but nothing hurts, so it’s OK.
Then a huge filling gets pulled out by a sticky sweet. I’m at work. I stare in horror as the filling sits on my desk, then stuff it out of sight in my purse. It’s a bank holiday weekend, I’m standing in for a colleague for the next 3 weeks. I haven’t got time for a dentist. Head in the sand - but I know it’s bad now.
And it is. I KNOW things can’t get better, teeth can’t heal themselves, that that tooth is now exposed to all sorts of nasty stuff.
To cut a long story short, that tooth did finally force me to a dentist after about 12 years of not going. A huge abscess formed on the gum at the back of my teeth, it spread up to my hard palette, infection caused sinusitis, I was lisping, swallowing was difficult, my subconscious had me dreaming about bacteria eating into my - well, this is probably getting too graphic.
So things are being sorted again. But the reason I’m on here is to try and understand why on earth I let things get into such a state. I don’t ever want to go back there. But it happens again and again. I’m angry at myself because this has happened before. What can I do this time round to break the pattern?
Don‘t get me wrong, every appointment has me in a total panic. I can’t think of anything else for days in advance. I freeze and become super compliant. The reality is normally not too bad. My dentist doesn’t hurt me. He’s gentle, answers my questions (I have to force myself to ask them, though - I just want to curl into a ball and get things over and done with), takes time for me and as far as I can tell he’s doing a great job. I also trusted him from the start, which is very unusual. He still scares the wits out of me though.
By the way, this forum taught me not to say “I hate dentists” to him and see things from the other perspective.
 
T

thisisme

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 17, 2012
Messages
248
Welcome! I see we have similar feelings about the dentist seeming archaic. You seem to be doing good now in terms of getting things sorted. Take it one apartment at a time and yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling. It can take many appointments to build up trust with a dentist. It sounds like he’s gentle and understanding, which is awesome.

As far as not going back to how things were... I think you gotta just keep moving forward. Continue through your treatment. It’s okay to be nervous and scared but the more you do it, the less scary it may seem. Then, once you finish (and before you leave the office), set a date for a future cleaning. That way you don’t have to call and it’s set and you can put it in the back of your mind.
 
kitkat

kitkat

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It is interesting how for some, a few good experiences can cure their phobia while others, it can be a life long battle. I think gaining some forward momentum is really important when it comes to tackling dental fear. I know that when I have many appointments scheduled close together, I am less anxious than when I have to go back after being away for a long time. I agree with @thisisme about scheduling the next appointment before even leaving the office. That has been huge for preventing avoidance in my journey. I always schedule the next appointment...even if I pick a totally bogus time that may not work out...I just get something booked on the calendar because it is easier for me to call and reschedule later than pick up the phone to make an appointment that doesn’t exist yet. It is good that you found a dentist that you like...that is the first step to trust building. I have had the same dentist for 17 years and 100% trust her but I still get nervous before appointments. I’m learning to acknowledge my anxiety but not act on it. Given some of the past traumatic dental experiences you shared, it is not surprising to me that you have a fight/flight/freeze response to a dental environment. I’m not a psychologist and not diagnosing anything here but it sounds like you have a bit of a PTSD type of response to dental appointments.
 
J

JaySee19

Member
Joined
Jun 17, 2020
Messages
30
Location
Germany
You’re right @kitkat and @thisisme that I should never leave the office without the next appointment. In the “active“ phase that tends to be the case anyway, but I will really have to schedule a check-up immediately after the last appointment. Most of the time I just want to get out of there and run. The dangerous part is not necessarily the treatment phase, I always go to my appointments and I would always finish off the treatment (you read of people who don’t get their RCTs crowned etc. - that’s not me). The dangerous part is picking up that phone to make an appointment for a check-up. No pain, no real need and the fear will have come back by then. Crazy really - it’s only a phone call! I’m on the phone all day!
So, yes, I have to make sure I don’t have to make that call by already having an appointment.
 
T

thisisme

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 17, 2012
Messages
248
You’re right @kitkat and @thisisme that I should never leave the office without the next appointment. In the “active“ phase that tends to be the case anyway, but I will really have to schedule a check-up immediately after the last appointment. Most of the time I just want to get out of there and run. The dangerous part is not necessarily the treatment phase, I always go to my appointments and I would always finish off the treatment (you read of people who don’t get their RCTs crowned etc. - that’s not me). The dangerous part is picking up that phone to make an appointment for a check-up. No pain, no real need and the fear will have come back by then. Crazy really - it’s only a phone call! I’m on the phone all day!
So, yes, I have to make sure I don’t have to make that call by already having an appointment.
My office makes me make an appointment before leaving, haha. The are always like “and okay, let’s schedule your next cleaning” while I’m still in the chair. It’s nice because I can get an evening appointment six months out and then just put it in the back of my mind. Honestly I’ve only done this twice in my adult life (schedule a dental appointment in advance) but you gotta start somewhere! The hardest thing I’ve done so far was calling to make my first appointment and calling again to discuss a problem I was having. I hate calling dental offices! It’s not just you. I am on the phone all day as well but this is different.
 
J

JaySee19

Member
Joined
Jun 17, 2020
Messages
30
Location
Germany
I can see me trying to wriggle out of it already. During non-Covid-19 times I tend to travel a fair bit for work, so I can see myself claiming I wont know if I’m even in town in 6 months time. Making excuses already!
But the option of re-scheduling is a good one (still involves a phone call though) and I shall just have to pick a date!
 
kitkat

kitkat

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Mar 27, 2006
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1,561
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Mine always schedules me for the next appointment before I leave too...when I stop at the desk to pay at the end, they already have the calendar up and are proposing dates for next time so it makes it easy to commit to something. My office also charges a no call/no-show fee so even if I commit to a bogus time I have to call to at least cancel...and then I might as well reschedule so it’s easier somehow.
 
krlovesherkids777

krlovesherkids777

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Jul 26, 2017
Messages
2,768
Location
Minneapolis, MN
Jaysee19,

Hello . so glad you are here and shared your story,, just reading it..

"Those guys were sadists in a big way and there is nothing worse than some ancient guy drilling into a tooth while you’re in agony and telling you to pull yourself together, he’s nearly finished. When he hasn’t. He’s lying. It’s very hard to trust after that. I came out of those sessions in shock. "

when I read this I was like .omg.. sooo my childhood dentist.. exactly. and I'm sorry you had to go through that too, no one should go through this..

" Strange to say if an appointment exists I do go. I can’t bring myself to make that call on my own though."

you sound very committed to your health but who wouldn't be afraid to think of making that call and stepping closer to the dentist after what you'd been through.

"But the reason I’m on here is to try and understand why on earth I let things get into such a state. I don’t ever want to go back there. But it happens again and again. I’m angry at myself because this has happened before. What can I do this time round to break the pattern? "

I'm no psychologist, only a recovering dental phobe who has gone to therapy and reads alot :) but I read this book call "The body keeps the score" and it made sooo much sense to me about trauma and how it affects an body and brain and how when you go through a certan experience of trauma it rewires the brain and gives you this different trauma response, it made so much sense to me then why I freeze and avoid the dentist. So many of us have been through dental trauma and really no wonder we avoid and act like we do freeze, fight or flight.

I think the really great thing is how you are processing and aware of all this and helping yourself.. This is so strong and great!!

"Don‘t get me wrong, every appointment has me in a total panic. I can’t think of anything else for days in advance. I freeze and become super compliant. The reality is normally not too bad. My dentist doesn’t hurt me. He’s gentle, answers my questions (I have to force myself to ask them, though - I just want to curl into a ball and get things over and done with), takes time for me and as far as I can tell he’s doing a great job. I also trusted him from the start, which is very unusual. He still scares the wits out of me though.
By the way, this forum taught me not to say “I hate dentists” to him and see things from the other perspective."

You are so in good company,, weird how we can have the best dentists yet still have the anxiety. My psychologist mentioned I may always have it to some degree , but the frequency, intensity and duration may change over time with built trust and positive momentum with the right dentist..

I know it happened for me.. I had a dentist I amazingly trusted.( funny thing there is something about him I trusted in a way from the start too, just this gut feeling he was worthy of it) . I called him my angel dentist , still I would get nervous.. but it would get less and less and for different things.. or reasons.. and I knew I could talk to him about it and about anything! Best guy of life.! Gained trust really catapulted my decrease in anxiety .. knowing he understood and knew and took it into account did too.

Sounds like you have a good one too!!

Making phone calls are hard too... I work on the phone too all day as a patient care rep.. and often wonder why it is so difficult for me to call my dental office.. :p. I guess its very normal..

Hope you will get in soon to keep up that positive momentum you have going . We are here for you :) Thanks again for sharing your story .
 
J

JaySee19

Member
Joined
Jun 17, 2020
Messages
30
Location
Germany
I’ve just been digging around in my old paperwork trying to find out what my private dental insurance actually covers. They didn’t have implants when I signed up for it, but checking their website it looks as if implants would also be covered and I’d only have to pay 10%. I am so glad I took that insurance out! Not that I intend to lose any teeth - but who knows? I also found some old invoices and I’m ashamed to say it looks as if I haven’t been to the dentist in 13 years (said in a small voice).
What is weird is that my “dental cycles” always seem to be around 13/14 years. After uni I didn’t go for 13 1/2 years, then I went for 14 years, then I stopped for 13 years. So as I'm now at the start of a “being good“ phase I have another 14 years of tooth health to look forward to! By which time I will be an old lady. If I stop then it’s highly likely that the next abscess could well be the death of me. So I’d better not stop.
Just some macabre thoughts to fill a Friday evening.
Oh, and the last invoice was for work on 2 teeth. One of those teeth is the one that is causing all the trouble now. The other one has also lost a chunk and is rescheduled for filling next week. So either the dentist didn’t do a good job, or they were troublesome teeth back then and always likely to play up.
 
J

JaySee19

Member
Joined
Jun 17, 2020
Messages
30
Location
Germany
We had a ”party” for my husband’s birthday yesterday. Outside at a local lake so we could all keep our distance. Friends and family, but not as many as usual in these unusual times. It was amazing how often the theme dentist and teeth came up - and I didn’t have to run away. One of our really good friends couldn’t come, because of toothache, which triggered the first conversation. Normally I would have been absolutely squirming, but this time I could join in! And then son no. 2 said he needed to go for a check-up and claimed I didn’t take him regularly as a kid (not true - well, depends how you define regularly). Normally that would have made me very sad, but this time I told him how terrified I was of dentists and how much energy it cost me to take them when they were little. And I told him why, what happened to make me so phobic. It gave him food for thought and he was a bit kinder to his old Mum. Fortunately he has excellent teeth which he looks after and his last check-up produced absolutely nothing.
It was also lovely to be a bit more relaxed with our young grandson. I don’t kiss or share food with him because I don’t want him to get my oral bacteria. This time I didn’t have to be quite so careful when he fed me! I’m still super careful though as the little lad is being brought up without any sweets or sugar. At nearly 3 he drinks only water and has no interest in chocolate, cake, biscuits, sweets etc. His Mum and Dad are doing a great job and I would hate to undermine them.
There are lots of positives to getting your teeth fixed!
 
J

JaySee19

Member
Joined
Jun 17, 2020
Messages
30
Location
Germany
I have a dental appointment tomorrow. And as usual I am so nervous. I know I’m not going to be hurt. It’s only 2 “small fillings” as far as I’m aware, but even if it was anything bigger I know I’m in good hands. So why am I fixated on 12:00 tomorrow as if the world ends at that point? Hey, I might even enjoy it - one step closer to getting things sorted.
 
J

JaySee19

Member
Joined
Jun 17, 2020
Messages
30
Location
Germany
Appointments are never as bad as you imagine them to be. But then there are always surprises too! My 2 small fillings were actually 3. And he did them all without LA. That would have terrified me a few weeks ago and I really had to push the apprehension away to deal with the idea - but it worked. And I was flabbergasted. How did he know? And no, I know at least one filling was not superficial because I’d seen the chunk of tooth that broke off about 18 months ago. Nor is the tooth dead because there were a couple of threatening twinges.
I am a bit bewildered at the current me, who has avoided dentists for 13 years and lets this one drill away without numbing.
I am also profoundly grateful that I seem to have got off so lightly. One root canal (that still needs crowning) and 5 fillings (4 of which didn’t need local anaesthetic). I may get punished yet as I have paradontitis which is the next thing on our list to get sorted and that is new for me. So I may lose teeth yet.
One thing is certain though - I really have to conquer this fear and keep going to the dentist. I’m getting too old to slip again. If I do I will definitely lose some gnashers and I want to keep them as long as possible.
I have a 4 week break now, as we need to get approval from my health insurance. This is good and bad. Good in that it gives me a break. Bad in that it gives me time to get anxious again. The dentist told me to make an appointment when I had the approval, but his assistant is not daft. She made sure I had a date in my diary before I left the practice - she saw the look in my eye as I briefly saw freedom!
 
J

JaySee19

Member
Joined
Jun 17, 2020
Messages
30
Location
Germany
Ha, I knew it was too good to be true. Today my trip to the ENT guy revealed that I have a massive, chronic sinus infection. There are 2 ENT doctors, the one on Monday wasn’t really interested in what I had to say. The younger guy today was much more patient-friendly, he did however have the x-rays. And he looked very serious and worried (not reassuring).
The radiologist reckons it comes from my teeth. Which should be OK now. So I’m not a happy bunny.
 
krlovesherkids777

krlovesherkids777

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Jaysee19,

Sorry to hear its a massive sinus infection. Did they put you n any type of treatment or antibiotics for it? Hope it goes away for you soon? Glad the 2nd one listened and was a lot more kind and patient friendly. Amazing what a difference between health care providers on the bedside manner front.
 
J

JaySee19

Member
Joined
Jun 17, 2020
Messages
30
Location
Germany
Jaysee19,

Sorry to hear its a massive sinus infection. Did they put you n any type of treatment or antibiotics for it? Hope it goes away for you soon? Glad the 2nd one listened and was a lot more kind and patient friendly. Amazing what a difference between health care providers on the bedside manner front.
Thanks @krlovesherkids777. I’ve been put on antibiotics, but chronic sinusitis is really difficult to get rid of. And it is chronic. I’m pretty sure it’s a direct result of the infection in my tooth, which I ignored for months (due to dental fear) and I’ve pretty much had this since February. On the other hand I rarely take medication of any kind so I hope the stuff he’s given me works. The sinusitis has not been causing me many problems, but obviously having a huge infection in your head is not good for you. Especially as I’ve just got rid of one (I thought).
 
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