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Is is ok to keep secrets regarding your dental phobia?



Sep 10, 2009
This morning, a piece of a tooth from somewhere in the back of my mouth fell out and I spat it into my hand. My first reaction was to flinch in pain/panic and look around quickly to see if David saw what happened.

Then I realized that he had already gone off to work so I was safe. I mean, I think I can find the place where it came from and it doesn't hurt so much now and if I don't tell him, he will never know.

I just think it's for the best if I don't say anything to him because I know he would freak out if he found out, start asking me all these questions, bringing up bad memories and badgering me that I go see my dentist to get it checked out. He doesn't mean to be intense, he just gets concerned, but it comes off an intense. I know I have put him through hell during the last round of treatment with my PTSD and dental phobia acting up at the same time.

I just don't want to deal with this right now. I just want to go be in denial. But I've been busted before for not saying anything when I was having tooth pain and then my face swells up. And to David, it looks like a sudden acute crisis of toothache when in fact it was a problem that had started a while before and steadily got worse.

I know this is not exactly a dentist support need... I don't like having to keep things from David but I get scared and I emotionally shut down and go into denial. David hates it when I keep things from him. He has said that to me plenty of times, especially when we first met and I wanted him to like me and I wanted him to think I didn't have dental phobia.

Thanks for listening.
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Former Member
No one knew about my phobia except my dentist until I told my parents. I don't think it's bad to keep it a secret, it's your thing and if you're dealing with it by yourself then that's fine!
Steve In Cleveland

Steve In Cleveland

Well-known member
Forum Buddy
Apr 10, 2012
Cleveland, OH (USA)
Hi odette,

What a brave and honest post, thank you for bringing this up. You post brings up so many familiar feelings in me, I can't imagine that these aren't the same exact things lots of other phobics here go through.

(long wandering thought stream follows...)

We deal a lot here on the forum with the practical, technical aspects of dentistry: how to stay calm, what to expect at the dentist, what certain procedures are like, etc. But there's a huge component to dental phobia (well, mine at least) that involves fear and shame and embarrassment and self-judging. These emotions are all swirling around in our heads just as much as the fear of the needle, drill, or chair. We have thoughts like:

  • I'm embarrassed about the state of my teeth
  • I'm afraid people will discover how bad my teeth are
  • I'm ashamed that I can't take care of my teeth like "normal" people
  • I think I'm a bad person because I've neglected my teeth or avoided the dentist

A huge, "non-dental" part of my dental phobia was the fear of being discovered. Mostly this fear was based on people finding out that I had a problem, that my teeth were as bad as they were, and then being judged or mocked or shunned by those people once they found out how bad my condition was.

With my wife, the fear was much more complex. I was still afraid of how she'd feel about me if she knew my teeth were so bad-- like David, my wife wasn't aware of the "true" state of my teeth, and I dreaded the day I'd have to explain that whatever crisis I was in was actually the end product of years and years of denial and neglect. But I know my wife is a kind person and she loves me, so I figured that she would be compassionate and not think worse of me.

What I was more afraid of was that if I told her I had a problem, she'd want me to immediately take care of it. I knew that neglecting my teeth was slowly (or some days not so slowly) damaging my health and body. I'd hear stories of people dying from tooth infections, and I'd pray that that didn't happen to me, but it wasn't enough to make me do anything about the condition of my teeth. I really felt like this must be what it's like to be a secret heroin addict, or to live with some other unhealthy habit like anorexia or cutting. I thought, if I found out my wife was slowly hurting herself in some way, I'd be compassionate, but I'd want to help her stop doing it right away. I wouldn't be able to say, "I love you even though you're cutting yourself, and I want to help you, but if you're not ready yet, that's okay. Just keep cutting yourself, and when you're ready, we'll work on facing the problem." But that's what I wanted from her, sort of. I wanted to be able to say, "My teeth are crumbling and I know that's really bad for my health and dangerous, but I want you to just accept the fact that I'm going to continue to let them crumble for now. I can't handle going to the dentist or doing anything to fix them or stop them from crumbling. I'd just like to not have to hide the broken bits of tooth from you in a napkin. I want to be able to take the broken bit out and look at it in front of you and worry over it a bit, and I'd like you to feel sorry for me, and then I'd like us both to keep eating and pretend like there's nothing wrong with that."

I knew that was a silly thing to ask for. I knew that if she came to me with some health issue, say a lump on her breast, and said, "I'm really worried about this, but I don't want to do anything about it, I just want you to worry with me," well, I'd try to nag her into going to the doctor. I'd be gentle and compassionate and all that, but I wouldn't just let it go, because I love her and I want her to stick around.

So I hid the little bits of tooth from my wife, and pretended like I was a normal, tooth-brushing, dentist-seeing American. And I felt really crappy about hiding something that was a huge part of my life from my wife. And the longer I hid it, the worse I felt, and the bigger it seemed. And then I did start to worry about how she'd react, not to the state of my teeth, but to the fact that I'd kept such a big secret from her for so long. By this time, the big ball of secrecy was so huge that it was always easier to tuck the tooth fragment in a napkin and keep living in denial than it was to confront the problem.

Leaders, criminals, and entire civilizations are brought down but things like this: big things that seem like much bigger things, and then start to take on a whole life of their own, weighed down by layers of secrecy and lies and coverups. It's not just the fear of the dentist's drill that makes people here talk about suicide or say things like "I'd rather die." It's all this shame and secrecy and fear that piles on over time.

In the end I was forced into the dentist's chair like a lot of people: a tooth got so bad and so painful that I couldn't ignore the problem any longer. I made myself face the problem, got a root canal (no pain by the way!), and was home a couple hour later, pain free. But even better, I felt like all the shame and avoidance went away that first visit too. I'd done the unthinkable, and the world didn't end, and the dentist didn't even seem to think my teeth were hideous. My secret had been exposed, and it felt SO much better to have shared it and not have to hide it any longer.

But it still took me a month to tell my wife about it.

I was no longer afraid she'd make me go to the dentist, because I'd been to the dentist. I was no longer afraid she'd react in horror or judge me, because the dentist-- who can see the plaque and decay so much better-- didn't even react at all. But I was still ashamed of having kept it a secret for so long. I felt like telling her now would be like saying, "I didn't trust you enough to share my problem." And what did that say about our relationship? A couple weeks after the root canal, I got a crown, and I still couldn't think of a way to tell my wife. I considered just continuing to keep it a secret. I'd go and get my teeth fixed up, and no one would ever know they'd ever been bad, except me and my dentist.

But I worked up my courage, and one night on one of our walks, I told her, "I'm happy because I got my tooth fixed a couple of weeks ago, and I've got a dentist who's going to work on a bunch of other things I've been putting off." Initially, she reacted like I'd told her about a secret lover. Because it is actually a betrayal, isn't it? You're supposed to share things with your spouse, and this is a big thing that I just couldn't share. She said something like, "I feel kind of like you've been living this secret life where you've been going off to the dentist." But then we both realized how funny that sounded, and we moved on. I apologized and said I felt really crappy about not being able to share that part, and we talked a little bit about fear of dentists, and now she's a supportive partner in my dental journey. I can tell her, "I'm really putting off having this one tooth taken care of," and she gives me sympathy and encouragement, and she's kind enough to know when to prod me a little and when to give me a little space. And once in a while I'll be eating something and have a little pain in one of the teeth still to be worked on (no broken bits yet, but it's possible), and I don't have to hide behind my napkin and pretend nothing's wrong.


So, is it okay to keep your condition a secret? Well, you know the answer to that. Does it make you a horrible person that you still choose to keep it a secret? No, it just makes you human and scared and vulnerable. Like me, you know David cares about you enough that he wouldn't want you to continue to stay in denial about this, because staying in denial is bad for you in lots of ways. Telling David will inevitably lead to you going to the dentist, and that's an impossible thing for you to contemplate, so you have to hide it for now. I think that's why alcoholics have such a hard time with the first step. Admitting you have a problem, out loud, to someone you love, is really the same thing as saying, "I want you to help me fix it."

One of the things that slowly helped me prepare for my inevitable trip to the dentist was finding a good psychologist to work though some other issues in my life. Therapy is its own kind of scary and brave and vulnerable and painful and rewarding, and it takes time. I actually avoided talking about dental things with my therapist, because I was afraid it would put me on that same inevitable road to the dentist, and I wasn't really ready for that. But along the way I learned to cope with some of my shame issues, and I learned that I'm a valuable person, which made me want to take better care of myself. And I learned not to base my self-worth on other people's opinions. And, I learned to start trusting my wife a little more, and trusting her love for me.

You say a couple of things that set off some red flags for me. You mention that you kept a lot of things from David when you first met him "because I wanted him to like me." Something I've struggled with more than anything, and still struggle with, is the idea that my friends and my spouse love me for who I am, which is a wonderful person, and not because they think I'm something I'm not. Do you think David is perfect? Or do you know some of the gross, yucky, undesirable things he does, and still love him anyway? It works the other way too.

The other thing you said is that you've been "busted" before for not saying anything. There's a whole world of things to explore in that word: do you feel like a bad girl about to be scolded by her parents for having done something wrong? Do you think that you're doing something wrong in the first place, just because you have a health issue? Do you feel like David is an authority figure in your life, who you need to hide from? Guess what? Everyone feels these things too, at different times and to different degrees. We think our relationships are simple but they're really complex. And then we feel all crappy because we have complex feelings, and because we don't always act the way we're supposed to act, and that we're not perfect spouses, and on and on.

I so completely understand where you're coming from, and I get how you're feeling, and I know how terrifying and overwhelming it is, and how much you just want to stay in denial a little longer. And I know how hard it is to talk to your parter sometimes when you don't exactly want to be "fixed" just yet but you'd like to stop hiding something that's such a big part of your life. All I can say is that I wish you strength and courage to get yourself to that point where you can face the dentist and also hopefully get David to understand what it's like for you, at least enough to give you the support you need and back off on the things that are hard for you.

In the mean time, do what you can do to try to get yourself to that point, and don't beat yourself up too much when you fall short.

I hope somewhere in all that rambling you found something useful, or at least reassuring. There's no simple answers, unfortunately (or at least, not ones we want to hear), but you're definitely not alone.


Well-known member
Jun 3, 2012
Odette, Steve has said it all so well, there's not a lot to add.
You need to get your dental journey started for yourself, for your own peace of mind, for your own health. You deserve it, you will feel so much better in every way. I wish you all the very best. Folk on here will love to help you. You speak of bad memories, do you have a dentist you trust? I hope so. If so, have a chat with him/her about your feelings. If not, then set about finding one who will listen sympathetically. Good luck, and keep posting. People love to help on this forum. We have all been through difficult journeys.


Well-known member
Mar 4, 2012
Bless you Odette

This whole dental phobia thing is not really much fun is it, especially when it seems to have the ability to add to the worries that we carry on our shoulders.

I had never told anyone about my fear of the dentist, and if ever I was in a room where someone said, 'I need to make my appointment for my six monthly checkup' I would feel my tension rise, and my face would invariably go beetroot because I felt as if people automatically knew I hadn't been to the dentist for years :(

I was totally mortified when my crown broke back in February, as I knew I had to tell my hubby, and I knew it would mean me facing my worst nightmare of all time, and I knew my hubby wouldn't understand, as he goes regularly with no big dramas, and has good strong teeth.

You will know yourself when you will feel the time is right to tell David, and I truly hope that he will be understanding and supportive of you as you face your fears and progress through your journey.

The very best of wishes to you hunni.

Kim x


Super Moderator
Nov 11, 2008
Hi Odette

I don’t think there is much more to be added to what Steve has said but I wanted to add my thoughts here – I noticed your post whilst on holiday last week and have not had time to reply until now.

This post really struck a chord with me because I asked that exact question of my therapist when I was undergoing CBT treatment to deal with my dental phobia at its worst. Her response was first one of surprise to be asked this question but then she gave me the following advice that I would like to pass on to you:

This is your phobia and your journey. It is important that you take the steps that you need in order to progress on the journey and if that means going some or all the way down the road alone then so be it. If you feel something helps then you don’t need any more justification than that.

Steve’s story is so similar to my own. I used to hide my phobia – and teeth – not just from my husband but also from friends and colleagues. If you can believe it, I actually used to fake dental appointments – keeping note to space them 6 months apart and take an hour off work or mention to friends just casually, you know the way other people do: “how has your week been?” “oh, nothing special, work has been busy, went to the cinema on Tuesday, had the dentist on Thursday but apart from that haven’t done much...” I was terrified not only that people would discover I had such a crippling dental phobia and so wanted to create this nonchalant persona about it all but also thought that people would notice if I never went to the dentist and they would start looking at my teeth, think they looked bad and would therefore think bad things about me. When I eventually confessed all to a very sympathetic colleague, she was amazed at the lengths I had gone to hide the situation and said that not only had she never noticed my references to dental appointments (Aha! My fake calmness was a success!:giggle:) but she said that even if I never took time off for “appointments” she would also never have noticed and certainly wouldn’t have made the leap to judge me or my teeth.

My cover was blown with OH when we moved in together and I found it more difficult to fake appointments. Still, at that point, I let him believe that all the previously mentioned appointments had been real and I had only stopped going at that point because I was too busy to get around to re-registering with one in the area.

On the fateful day when my tooth broke in half and I knew I would have to see a dentist for the first time in 13 years, which resulted in a horrific experience with a very unsympathetic dentist:shame:; I sat at home after the ordeal and rehearsed what I was going to tell my husband. How it had been the worst day of my life and I just needed to finally get it all off my chest and let him support me. But I couldn’t do it :cry:. It was tearing me apart knowing that of course he would be supportive BUT he would also want me to register with his dentist there and then to get it fixed properly (horrible man had given a temp dressing and wanted me to make an appointment to go back to him for full treatment which I refused to do. When I got home, both tearful and full of adrenaline I emailed a dentist recommend on this forum and had received the nicest reply almost immediately. I had some hope but not enough to follow through and make that appointment with someone even if they were the exact opposite of the dentist I had seen earlier in the day) and I just didn’t know how to find the words to tell my husband how I felt. A few days later I fell back into fake nonchalance “oh I almost forgot to mention, a really funny thing happened earlier in the week; my tooth broke so I found a dentist to fix it. One more thing off the list…:cool::cool::redface::shame:” He was, of course, concerned, but I missed my opportunity and blew it off saying that everything was fine and tried to remain blasé about the whole situation.

That was the 8th of December. After Christmas OH asked when I was getting my tooth properly fixed so again I faked an appointment (when he was on a business trip in January so I wouldn’t have to fake any numbness) and let him think it was all taken care off and I was now registered with a dentist. In February I plucked up the courage to reply to the nice dentist. In May I finally summoned the courage to make an appointment with him.

I was in a terrible state a full week before the appointment but again could not tell OH what was wrong. I started throwing up repeatedly with nerves and as the day approached, stopped eating, sleeping and would burst into tears at the slightest provocation. Three days before, I collapsed at work and the two colleagues (one was my boss) who had been present and were overwhelmingly supportive and sympathetic when I had the tooth breaking incident persuaded me to stay at home for the rest of the week. Looking back, I can understand why my OH was so scared. I was losing weight, looked terrible, couldn’t work and threw up anything I did eat… When I cried, he assumed it was pain and was terrified I had some serious mystery illness yet I (knowing exactly what was wrong) refused to let him take me to a doctor. The night before the appointment, I properly broke down and he begged me to let him help so I finally, too exhausted to keep it up anymore, told him everything. It all poured out, how scared I was, how bad the situation had been in December, my childhood experiences, the years of deception… he was taken aback – of course he was – but he was also wonderful and probably just relieved that I wasn’t dying:friends:.

So, I no longer keep dental secrets from OH but there are many that I do keep and that is why I had to seek reassurance from my therapist on the matter. I can’t tell my parents about my fear and until recently couldn’t even pretend to be blasé with them about appointments. I have mentioned this on other threads but their attitude towards “weak” people means that whilst I would love to educate them on fear and the perceptions of strength and weakness, I know that the likely conversations and arguments would set back my own journey and so I keep secrets about seeing a (wonderful dentist) and the work I have had done.

I also keep dental secrets at work. I no longer work in the place I had my "meltdown" :redface: and none of my current colleagues know about my phobia. Another reason I asked the question was because in my office, all dental and medical appointments are recorded on a central office calendar and I noticed, and am sure this happens everywhere, that whenever anyone has a dental appointment several things happen (1) they are questioned by everybody about what it is for – just a check-up, or something nasty? (2) The announcement of an upcoming appointment is met with “oh no, poor you!” Or, “well, its got to be done – hope it’s not too bad” or jokes – way to perpetuate the myths and stereotypes! (3) upon return they are always met with “how bad was it?”. I knew that my mind would be in overdrive and I wouldn’t be able to hide my panicked state if this were to happen. So when I asked my therapist if she thought it would be okay to be secretive about appointments she said why not, if it was going to get me through! Most of the time I try to schedule these in my annual leave anyway so I don’t have to face anyone at work but even when that is not possible, my therapist suggested just putting it down as a doctor’s appointment – because it is – of sorts, and no one need know any more than that :cool:.

Lately, a further complication has arisen at work. A new boss has decided to limit time taken for this type of appointment and has conceded that due to catchment areas many people have to travel to see their GP or access specialist medical services during the day but this can be offset by us registering with one of the dental practices local to our workplace so that these appointments can be done in a lunchhour or on the way to work before 9am. Many people think this is a great idea and have changed their practice accordingly but when a colleague asked if I wanted her to pick me up a registration form I came up with the lie that my dental practice opens on Saturdays so I always go then and will not need take any time off work other than emergencies. Nobody is coming between me and my preferred dentist!:grin::grin::grin:

So yes, I think that often secrets and white lies are often necessary to help us progress as we need to.

Again it comes down to the importance of being in control of a situation and dealing with dental issues at your own pace and when and where it feels right for you.

I think that telling David is probably a necessary part of your journey but it can come along when you feel the time is right and for some people this may be at the beginning of the journey, for some it will be the end, when they can look back and tell their SO what they have achieved and why they felt it necessary to do it alone, and for some (like me) that point will come at a crossroads at some point in the middle of the journey. Again, I cannot emphasise enough that it is personal and you need to do what is right for you.

Please don’t, however, let this affect your relationship. Part of taking full control of your journey is accepting the consequences, be they queries, concerns or flat out non-understanding from others. If and when you do decide to tell David, do take time to reflect on all the times you have supported each other in the past and how these point to him being understanding and supportive of this issue.

Good luck and best wishes!

Steve In Cleveland

Steve In Cleveland

Well-known member
Forum Buddy
Apr 10, 2012
Cleveland, OH (USA)
Your story made me laugh, gettingthere-- in a familiar way of someone who's done many of the same things. I never actually scheduled fake "appointments" but I have added toothbrushes and toothpaste to the shopping list, even when I never actually brushed my teeth. And the casual dentist mentions! Anytime I found myself in a conversation that involved anything dental, I'd calmly throw off a "Boy, my dentist does that too, haha." Or I'd go into Seinfeld mode: "What's the deal with the giant needle, am I right?"

The thing about shame and phobias is that we feel like we're the only ones doing these crazy things and building all these walls and deceptions. It's refreshing to hear that other people do the exact same things.


Well-known member
Jun 1, 2012
United States
Odette, this is an interesting question.

I agree with Steve. I also agree with gettingthere. At the risk of sounding "on the fence," I'll explain myself.

My dental phobia has never been a secret from my husband, not even when we were first dating. I'm not even sure how the subject first came up. . .possibly when we were watching a video of the movie-musical Little Shop of Horrors, which we both enjoy (if you've never seen it, Steve Martin parodies a sadistic dentist). However, my husband and I have known a weakness we share (a specific anxiety disorder) almost from the beginning of our relationship, therefore I think this made us more open with one another about some things.

This being said, I kept two "big secrets" from my husband until we were engaged. One was something I knew he had a negative opinion about (in a general sense), because he'd mentioned it in a casual context fairly early in our relationship. Both were things I am still ashamed of for valid reasons, mostly related to social stigma, and generally don't tell others except on a "need-to-know" basis. When I finally told my husband he may have been surprised, but he wasn't highly shocked. At any rate, he didn't break off our engagement!

Regarding keeping your dental phobia a secret in a close/romantic relationship, ask yourself why you are keeping it a secret. Is it primarily because you are ashamed? If so, you may need to find the courage to tell David. If you don't feel David will understand, you may need to take a chance and trust him. If David reacts negatively to your shame and/or really doesn't understand and clearly doesn't want to, you may need to rethink the relationship. If you are genuinely afraid of David's reaction, ask yourself if your fear is justified based on previous experiences with him. If it is, it is time to ask yourself if you really want to continue the relationship.

Although not something I advertised (especially since I have a reputation of being a "watch-out-for-the-quiet ones" adventurous bookworm with a high pain tolerance!), my dental phobia was not exactly a secret in the workplace. When a woman mentioned she had a dental appointment I would sometimes tell her I would rather go to the gynecologist than the dentist :rolleyes:, but otherwise didn't elaborate. My cover blew this spring when I returned to dentistry after a 16-year absence. Although most of my restoration appointments have been scheduled before work, I've sometimes had to take time off, and I'm sure some people have noticed. What can I say except we all have our weaknesses, and also our strengths?