• Dental Phobia Support

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It's been too, too long



Junior member
Apr 29, 2023
New Jersey
Hey, I'm Bunny. My story's a long one and I'm feeling emotional and ready to spill my guts about what is easily my biggest problem in life, so buckle up.
I've never been able to see a dentist without a host of problems, ever since I started seeing dentists in my early years. A lot of my qualities make me any dentist's worst nightmare and each time I frustrated some new dentist to their wit's end I'd just be further discouraged by yet another bad experience coupled with the guilt of knowing my continued pain was all my fault. My gag reflex is triggered extremely easy (I once had an impression attempted three times and none were successful ultimately because I couldn't help gagging on the impression material), and I seem to be more sensitive to pain than the average person--- I would always get absolutely loaded up on Novocain and still manage to feel the work being done, beyond just that normal sense of pressure. Maybe that's in my head, maybe not, but either way it would always feel real to me and I'd still be told "there's no way this could possibly be hurting" and continue to be worked on. My mom, who would have to take me to appointments when I was young, would tell me to "cut the crap" and "take it like a man" (though I wasn't a man, I was a little girl) as I panicked and cried. If I panicked to the point I couldn't keep still or quiet any longer the dentist would stop working at whatever half-way point they could get to and then the visit would end and that dentist would refuse to work on me again. Mom would treat me like some demon seed for not making this easier for everyone, but I was too young and scared to find the words to explain that I wasn't trying to cause problems, that it wasn't like I ENJOYED having this problem. Although the dentists recommended psychiatric help for the anxiety and/or some type of sedation, my mom wouldn't let me have those things for whatever reason (money, principle, what have you) and so I never got my dental problems under control because I was never given the tools necessary to make it happen. It's for these reasons I still have a lot of unfinished work in my mouth, and some of those teeth wound up waiting so long they became unsalvageable. Now at 25 years old I'm missing several teeth, fortunately none that are extremely visible, but still it's noticeable if I smile. Last time I went to the dentist was probably about four years ago, and I still have a temp covering an unfinished root canal in one of the bottom molars that has been hanging on for dear life since then. I have horrible, screaming cavities that have been growing for years. On top of the physical problems still existing, the emotional scars are lasting and even as an adult I still feel it's better to remain in excruciating pain day in and day out than try again and risk a repeat of the pain and mistreatment from dentists and family alike. The pain of going to the dentist and the pain of NOT going have been duking it out inside my mind for the better part of two decades now. This pain continues to solidify into fear and anxiety and I don't feel that I can find the trusted support necessary to get past it.

In adulthood when I tried again to solve my dental problems (which was hard enough just to try) I'd be met with judgment and shame from dentists who told me I'm only gonna have one set of adult teeth (tell me something I don't know) and that I should be taking better care of them (I take care of my teeth as best as I can without assistance from dental professionals, my phobia makes it incredibly hard to so much as reach out for a consult). Others try to scare me into compliance by going into depth about systemic health problems I could suffer from as a result of poor dental health; as a healthcare worker of many years and a nursing student about to graduate this June I'm well aware that dental problems can come with consequences, and believe you me, the irony of someone educated about human health and anatomy having a self-care deficit is not lost on me. I would love to see a dentist who will understand where I'm coming from and treat me nonjudgmentally as not just a set of teeth, but a human being with feelings--- feelings that have been consistently trampled on over this issue in particular my whole life long. Even if I do find someone like that who will show me mercy, I still run into another wall--- what if it's worse than I think? What if I can't handle the news they give me? What if I lose all my teeth before I even turn 30, and (speaking just for me here) end up with dentures which would be a painful daily reminder that I didn't take good enough care of myself? I'm aware that I could be prescribed Xanax or Valium, but still (admittedly pretty illogically) I fear these meds not working and I just end up getting hurt again. I have too many "what-if's" in my head to just show up at the dentist and get the work done without thinking about it.

Now, the pain is so severe that I have headaches on the daily. It's affecting my eating. I'm constantly preoccupied with the fact that my teeth are not healthy. And my fear of seeing a dentist is still so bad that I can hardly even entertain the idea of doing so. I can't even stand depictions of dentists and dental work on TV and depending what is shown I'll either feel nauseous and uncomfortable or start to panic and cry. I'm in the home stretch of a very intensive nursing program, and soon I'll be entering into a wonderful new career. I should be celebrating, and instead I'm suffering from a lifelong pain that shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. The comfort measures meant to bring ease to people suffering from dental phobia were not allotted to me as a child and years later I still can't get past the feeling that I don't deserve them and should have to go through everything awake, aware and suffering based on my mom's principle that I should be tougher and stronger.

Despite everything I haven't completely given up yet, as this is still something I want to work on. I hope to somehow, some way overcome my dental phobia, get out of pain, save my viable teeth and get implants to replace any that were lost. Does anyone here have an experience similar to mine? If so, could you tell me some things that helped you cope/achieve successes?
@BunnySPN Hi that sounds very rough, I am sorry you had to go through that as a child, and also for the unsympathetic treatment and fear tactics you have been getting as an adult. I hate being treated that way too. I didn't see a dentist for 19 years, due to bad experiences as a kid too, and built up a lot of problems. What helped me eventually was I found a dentist who said on their website specifically that they welcomed people who hadn't been in for a long time. She was not judgemental about me for not being in for a long time, and just worked on the problems. Maybe that would work for you like it did for me, finding someone who specifically advertised that they welcome people who haven't been in for a long time. I had some good luck using the information pages of this website too. In my case, I learned a lot from the page about my main specific phobia, which is fear of unecessary treatment. You might like this page if you are looking to find a dentist who will treat you well https://www.dentalfearcentral.org/help/find-a-dentist/
@NervousUSA Wow, that actually is an incredibly useful tip. I never thought to look for a detail like that before, but it definitely does make sense for a dentist to advertise a welcoming and nonjudgmental attitude as a point of pride. I'll have to see if any dentists in my area mention that on their websites, or call and ask whether they do. Thank you for your advice and kind words!

I'm unsure whether to get this done soon or wait until I turn 26 in a couple of months, at which point I'll have to come off my parents' insurance and get on my own. Insurance coverage has also been a major part of this whole nightmare (my dad's insurance never really covered the type of dentist I needed) and I would really hate to add further complication to something that's already been extremely hard. I guess what it will come down to is how much longer I can stand being in constant pain before I completely blow my stack and at the very least go to someone to pull the most problematic tooth. The few times I've elected to go to the dentist as an adult were always because the pain became so severe I couldn't stand it anymore and it won out over the fear. I feel like this may become one of those instances pretty soon, though I'm really terrified of losing a single tooth more, even one that I'm 99.9% sure isn't salvageable.

I'm definitely preparing to take the steps I need to take (even posting to this forum took me forever to push myself to do lol) but this is a major piece of the puzzle so thank you!

Just reading your story and I too am so sorry what you had to go through as a child and adult, it sounds so similiar to what I went through in many ways and really .. being a bully, guilting and gaslighting a child or adult, its just not a tactic that is helpful or works.. and it really creates a long term effect.. I know it did for for me.its hard.. I agree with NervousUSA about the watching websites for specific mentions of anxiety that seem very sincere , good reviews from people saying they used to be anxious but had a good experience. Also. one tool I would do is FB a dental office , I've had actually dentist themselves get back to me even after hours and releive my fears a bit and invite me for a meet and greet. It was very interesting. Either way I hope you find a kind dentist , you are doing well,, every step you take.. builds the momentum and gets you closer! :grouphug:
@krlovesherkids777 Thank you for your kind reply!

There have actually been some developments in my situation and very soon my life will change for the better. This past Friday night I hit my breaking point at work when the pain triggered a massive headache. The pain has become so severe that I'm not capable of keeping it under wraps anymore, and while working, I started losing focus and having alterations in my sensory perceptions, which told me that the jig is up, things have gotten out of hand, and something's gonna give very soon, possibly even as soon as I got home from work. I had to leave work early, as the pain became so excruciating I couldn't function and I drove home wailing inconsolably. I still live at home and so when I got in it was totally obvious within minutes that I was crying and something was very wrong. My parents wouldn't relent until I told them what was happening, and so I spilled my guts. And you know? It went better than I thought. It went so well that I felt like an idiot for having waited as long as I did when this conversation could have been had so much sooner.

I established that I need sedation, and that I need to go to someone equipped to handle patients with severe anxiety and not someone at a run-of-the-mill chain dentist who is used to just a shot of Novocain getting the job done. My parents accepted that. I think I never could have additional comfort measures as a child because of the fact I was a child, our insurance only covered so much, and my parents were trying to make it work with five kids. I think my mom's frustrations came from the fact that what we could afford wasn't enough for me to get the work done without severe distress, and maybe she figured that if she could "toughen me up" so to speak I'd be able to get the work done unaided like other people can? But things are different now. I'm a gainfully employed adult and I can afford things like cosmetics and sedation. I contribute financially to my care now, and so now it's my decision and mine alone whether I have these things. I've come to accept, and ask others to accept, that everyone in this world has things they simply can't do, and for me that something is seeing a dentist unmedicated. I need extra assistance to get dental work done and that's okay, because I myself am able to do things others aren't. I'm only human.

My dad recommended an amazing sedation dentist (my dad is very picky about his healthcare providers so if he has nothing but good things to say about this dentist then I trust him), and although I couldn't make an appointment over the weekend due to the holiday I'll be going there sometime in the next couple days. Once there I'll weigh my options with the dentist as to whether I want an oral sedative or to just be put out completely. I'm going to start with the most problematic tooth, which I'm 99.99% sure will need to be extracted, and it's a loss I'm preparing to mourn. I'll be sure to post an update here in this thread with what ends up happening. :)
So it's been nearly a week since I went back to the dentist and had the extraction done and first and foremost I want to say that my life as a whole is exponentially better now because of it. This dentist ended YEARS of suffering for me in more or less 15 seconds, and I've been in total bliss ever since. I'm healing well, just taking it easy and being careful with what I eat, and the pain after the procedure was almost nothing compared to the pain I was in beforehand. The headaches are gone, I'm able to get a full night's sleep, I'm performing better at work, and I'm in better physical and emotional condition now. A lot of healing happened that day.

I wound up getting nitrous oxide to help me stay calm. It definitely isn't as strong as IV sedation or even oral sedatives, in fact it didn't even curb my anxiety altogether, but realistically it was pretty much the extent of the support I needed for a 15-second procedure. It would have been more than I can afford at this current moment to get full-on put to sleep to have something done that would be over before I knew it, and so after giving it some thought I was okay with something that wasn't as strong. I was still very much aware of what was happening, and what was happening still registered as something I'm afraid of. The nitrous was almost like a supportive friend. It took the edge off. There were moments when the fearful part of me still wanted to jump out of that chair and run, but the nitrous seemed to gently pull me back in. There were moments when the uncertainty in me made me want to protest, and the nitrous told me that it's ok, and to just let it happen. And so I did. I'm bummed to be missing another tooth, but I'm a million times happier that it's not rotting in my head anymore. I can have it replaced someday, and today I can commit to continuing to face this fear and making sure I don't lose another one.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't as simple as I was afraid, then I got the extraction, now I'm not afraid anymore. I realize it's going to be an ongoing process and seeing the dentist is going to be something I struggle with. Although it won't be "easy," it won't be as hard as I dreaded. I had X-rays taken and the extent of the work I need done is far less than I expected. Apart from the extraction I had done already I still need a permanent crown to replace an old temp, and I have two very small cavities in 19 and 20. Other than that I just need to get a cleaning and to keep coming back twice a year. This was a huge relief for me to hear, but it wasn't a total surprise since I brush and floss and overall take good care of my teeth apart from avoiding dentists. I've already resolved that this work needs to be done soon while the problems are still manageable and I fully intend on keeping my appointment to have the cavities filled next week, and hopefully something can be done about the old temp before I turn 26 in 3 weeks. To help me get the rest of this work done to get my teeth to a healthy and stable place, I got a prescription from my doctor for some Xanax which I can take before seeing the dentist. I've never taken it before so I'm not entirely sure how well it will work for me, but I intend to just take it, let my dad drive me to the appointment, and let the medication do its job.

One of the greatest joys to come of this is that it allowed me to start building some confidence. Just in time for my graduation from nursing school, I'm feeling powerful instead of powerless. Now I go to work and school every day remembering that I can do things that are hard.
Hi @BunnySPN - thanks so much for sharing your story here. Fantastic to hear that your dad was able to recommend a great dentist and that he managed to get you out of pain so quickly and easily :cloud9:. Well done!!!

One of the greatest joys to come of this is that it allowed me to start building some confidence. Just in time for my graduation from nursing school, I'm feeling powerful instead of powerless. Now I go to work and school every day remembering that I can do things that are hard.

I love this bit... it's great to see how confronting your fears can have such a big knock-on effect on all areas of your life.

Wishing you all the best for your next appointment, please let us know how you get on!
@letsconnect My next one is this coming Tuesday afternoon, I'll definitely update you here on how it goes!
So I'm pretty exhausted but I did want to update everyone on how things have been going.

When I went back to the dentist to follow up, I had a more comprehensive set of X-rays taken and it turns out that while my situation is still not at all bad for what I've been through over the years, it's not as good as we initially thought during the initial extraction. What we thought was two small cavities turned out to be three small cavities, a slightly bigger one, and a root canal. I'm bummed that this isn't going to be quite as easy as I had initially been told it would be, but I'm still doing really great and keeping on track, and the need for additional work hasn't slowed me down all that much.

My sedative of choice has been Xanax. It serves me well so I'll keep using it as needed for premed. I appreciate that it relaxes me but allows me to stay awake enough to participate in my care. My new dentist's office's entire staff is so kind and compassionate and supportive as they walk me through the process, making me re-think my whole view on what I need in terms of sedation. The difference between the way the old chain dentists I used to see did things and the way this private practice dentist does things is just night and day, and I'm finding now that procedures that used to be torment for me are a lot more tolerable when I'm in the right hands. I've always needed a lot of Novocain, but this is the first time a dentist has ever actually believed me when I said I still felt pain, and continued to numb me until the sensation was at a tolerable level (I don't think I ever truly get numb enough that I don't feel it--- I got something like eight injections at today's visit). It also does wonders for my self-esteem to be praised and told how well I did and how much better things are looking, something I'd miss out on if I weren't an active participant. One of the biggest things, though, is that I'm a soon-to-be nurse and I'm curious and love to learn; the dental professionals I'm seeing now know this about me and show me my X-rays and tell me in some detail what exactly they're doing. Knowledge truly is power and these procedures feel a lot less scary when I know why and how they're done. I've also been giving myself some exposure therapy in the form of watching Youtube videos of dental procedures while I'm still mellowed out from the Xanax, as this helps me to know what to expect before having work done and to understand what was being done after having work done.

I still very much have dental phobia, but I'm learning to live with it and make compromises and adapt rather than having this all-or-nothing mindset of "either I go night-night and wake up with perfect teeth or I don't do anything at all about this." It's not been easy. Today was my third visit to the dentist this week. I've spent the past few days barely able to keep my eyes open from the Xanax, but found that if I have some coffee after having the work done the sedative effect wears off quickly, which is great for when I want to be calm to have the work done but don't have time to be all Weekend at Bernie's for the rest of the day, lol. I had my cleaning on Tuesday and between the root canal I had done this past Wednesday and the fillings I had done today right next to it I have a lot of pain in my gums from the many many Novocain injection sites all in the same area in addition to the pain in my jaw from holding my mouth open for extended periods and the general discomfort that comes after any procedure once the anesthetic wears off. My next appointment isn't for a couple more weeks while I wait for two of my permanent crowns to be made and I'm really grateful I'll have that break to rest and recover. It's been a painful, exhausting, and emotionally-taxing week, but I have no regrets other than that I hadn't done this sooner and I'm still over the moon despite not feeling 100% physically.

I'll continue to keep everyone posted as I get work done :)