Lifelong fear of the dentist — just made an appointment and scared out of my wits!

K

KMT

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Jun 24, 2021
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Hi all — was very happy to have found this forum after making my first dentist appointment in 10+ years this morning. I'm absolutely filled with anxiety and am hoping to find some support and reassurance as I try to ready myself for this Tuesday 😱 I'd also like to share my story, as I think it'll help to sort out why I'm feeling this way and hopefully help me to better communicate my fears and history with the dentist I'm seeing next week. Excuse the long post! I also will be talking a bit about some traumatic experiences with dentists and orthodontists, so I want to put a trigger warning for anyone that may be upset — I certainly don't want to contribute to derailing someone else's progress!

I've been afraid of the dentist for what feels like my entire life — my first experience in a dentist's office was having to wait in the waiting room while my big sister had 2 cavities filled. I could hear her screaming from there, and she cried the whole way home! Knowing what I know now about that dentist, I'm sure he didn't give nearly enough numbing agent and likely no sedative whatsoever, but from then on I dreaded my first appointment. When that time came, my father (who I love dearly, but is very pragmatic and prefers to have well-informed children rather than providing "unnecessary" comforts) answered my questions before the appointment with perhaps too much transparency — I remember checking with my mom to see if he was just trying to scare me with talk of using a drill on my teeth if I had a cavity. Drills are for construction and toolkits! She was not pleased with him, but confirmed it was the truth and brought me to my appointment, which was with the "family" dentist that my father had seen his whole life. This man likely meant well, but his tactics were fear and scolding. I didn't have any cavities, but he scolded me for not flossing (I was about 6 years old and hadn't ever been taught) and told me all the scary things that could happen if I didn't take proper care of my teeth. I always DREADED going to see him, and that was also when I started to feel extreme anxiety even when driving past a dentist's office (even when it wasn't my own dentist)!

By my middle school years, I still hadn't had a cavity, but still absolutely dreaded any dentist visit, so you can imagine my delight when I had to start going to the orthodontist (sarcasm)! My brother had had extensive orthodontia while in middle school and often left the office sobbing due to the pain caused and the terrible bedside manner of the town's primary orthodontist, so I also went in with fear due to that association. My mom initially brought me to that same orthodontist, who determined that the only way to cure my "tongue thrust" was to fit me for a device of his own making that had sharp metal bits that would poke my tongue any time it were to thrust. I had the device on for about 3 days before being brought back to have it removed — my tongue was being absolutely mangled every single time I swallowed or spoke! We switched to a different orthodontist who unfortunately was not much better — he was terribly mean, and his assistants would gossip about patients in the lab room because they thought we couldn't hear them! His office was also set up to have all 4 exam chairs lined up in one room with no dividers, so every visit was an exercise in embarrassment. In one of my first visits, the assistants taking the mold forgot about me, and not only was I gagging when they came back to remove it, but it had hardened enough that it pulled out two teeth! I was also supposed to have braces for only 1 year, but in the end it was 3 — luckily my parents brought me in to have them taken off before my senior year of high school (despite the orthodontist telling them off in front of the whole office for that decision)! He was truly the meanest man — he would accuse me of lying, he would openly yell at patients (I remember once him storming off and yelling at a small child for crying, saying he couldn't work on her while she was crying), and even told me that my teeth would have stains once I got my braces off because I was lying about brushing and flossing. They were stain-free when the braces came off, though! :muahaha: My dentist at the time wasn't much better — this was a new one, as the "family" dentist had by then retired, but he would scold me for all sorts of things despite my not having cavities, and once when the orthodontist suggested I have 4 teeth extracted as part of my treatment plan, and my parents and I opted to only have 2 extracted, he put me under and went ahead and pulled all 4. His reaction when telling me was something along the lines of "ha, I tricked you!"

All of this led to me neglecting any visits to dentists for the last 10 years. I've carried immense guilt for this neglect, and feel completely embarrassed by the state of my teeth. I began to feel serious tooth pain a few days ago and have been wracked with panic since then (which is saying something, given that I have diagnosed general anxiety anyway)! After waking up in the middle of the night last night and having a full-blown panic attack and trouble breathing, I decided it was time to make an appointment this morning. I called the first local office that came up when I googled "dental anxiety" in my area, but the receptionist was curt and they don't take my insurance. I managed to muster up the courage to call another office, and this receptionist was nice and booked one for Tuesday. This dentist has very good reviews, so I'm hoping for the best!

I've been a wreck all day since making the appointment, and it will probably only get worse as the day approaches. I'm trying to think about how relieved I'll be once this is done, but given that I'm based in the US, I am also extremely worried about the financial implications I'm likely about to face. I wish I could just fast-forward and be done with it (and maybe win the lottery along the way)!

Thank you to anyone who reads this far, and for everyone being so lovely and supportive in this forum and when sharing your stories. It's really helped me to feel more reassured and prepared for this appointment. Fingers crossed that all goes as well as it can! 🤞
 
S

Scaredbutready

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May 21, 2021
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Hi kmt, I’ve lurked her for so long before only recently posting. Congrats on making that appointment. What you went through sounds absolutely horrific! I too, have sadly neglected my teeth. But for 20 years. And let me tell you finding the right dentist in my opinion is absolutely key, they should have compassion and patience for you. You’ve got this, you’ll do great.just take One step at time. take care of the tooth bothering you and then set up a plan with your dentist in order of urgency. That should help cost wise too. I know it can seem overwhelming. I almost felt euphoric and had a weight lifted off of me after that first appointment. 20 years and I’ve now had 5 appointments in the last month. Best of luck to you, keep us posted. Honestly getting there is the hardest part. Dentistry has changed so much.
 
K

KMT

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Jun 24, 2021
Messages
5
Hi kmt, I’ve lurked her for so long before only recently posting. Congrats on making that appointment. What you went through sounds absolutely horrific! I too, have sadly neglected my teeth. But for 20 years. And let me tell you finding the right dentist in my opinion is absolutely key, they should have compassion and patience for you. You’ve got this, you’ll do great.just take One step at time. take care of the tooth bothering you and then set up a plan with your dentist in order of urgency. That should help cost wise too. I know it can seem overwhelming. I almost felt euphoric and had a weight lifted off of me after that first appointment. 20 years and I’ve now had 5 appointments in the last month. Best of luck to you, keep us posted. Honestly getting there is the hardest part. Dentistry has changed so much.

Thank you! I really appreciate the kindness and support. I'm hoping that this dentist will be a good fit — his reviews mention that he's gentle and that he takes a conservative approach and is mindful of cost burden, which all sound like the right track. I guess I'll know soon 😓

And good for you for completing those appointments! I definitely know how scary and daunting it must have felt! I really hope to feel that same euphoric relief soon, and being able to hear testimony from someone like you is super helpful as I work my way there! ❤
 
Enarete

Enarete

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Hi KMT:welcome:,

thank you for sharing your story with us and give yourself a huge pat on your back for scheduling! :) Remember: if it's scary, you're doing it right. Dentists are scary and it's difficult to go, that's what the phobia is about. You are doing a great job in pushing yourself anyway and at the same time being aware of what you need.

I'm really sorry to read about your past experience. It looks like so far whenever you saw a dentist, it was traumatic and you were always scolded and treated in a mean manner. Gosh, I just can't understand what was wrong with dentists back then - who would ever want to see a dentist after a chain of such experiences ?! :dunno:
As @Scaredbutready said, dentistry had changed so much. People have a choice of which dentist to go and there are things such as informed consent and patient rights. Dentistry became a service and not something people have to go through. With that being said, our anxiety doesn't care much about this switch in trends so the only thing that works is to get some new positive experiences. I know this is hard, because your mind only can take your past as a reference.

Hope your visit will go well and the dentist will treat you kindly. If you can, stay kind to yourself and allow yourself to process the past and to have the anxiety. It is a result of your unfortunate past experiences and as hard as it is, it's a part of the journey. You got this ;)

By the way, no post is too long here and writing it all out often helps to sort thoughts, distract and to calm nerves, so feel free to write as much as you like :grouphug:
 
K

KMT

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Joined
Jun 24, 2021
Messages
5
Hi KMT:welcome:,

thank you for sharing your story with us and give yourself a huge pat on your back for scheduling! :) Remember: if it's scary, you're doing it right. Dentists are scary and it's difficult to go, that's what the phobia is about. You are doing a great job in pushing yourself anyway and at the same time being aware of what you need.

I'm really sorry to read about your past experience. It looks like so far whenever you saw a dentist, it was traumatic and you were always scolded and treated in a mean manner. Gosh, I just can't understand what was wrong with dentists back then - who would ever want to see a dentist after a chain of such experiences ?! :dunno:
As @Scaredbutready said, dentistry had changed so much. People have a choice of which dentist to go and there are things such as informed consent and patient rights. Dentistry became a service and not something people have to go through. With that being said, our anxiety doesn't care much about this switch in trends so the only thing that works is to get some new positive experiences. I know this is hard, because your mind only can take your past as a reference.

Hope your visit will go well and the dentist will treat you kindly. If you can, stay kind to yourself and allow yourself to process the past and to have the anxiety. It is a result of your unfortunate past experiences and as hard as it is, it's a part of the journey. You got this ;)

By the way, no post is too long here and writing it all out often helps to sort thoughts, distract and to calm nerves, so feel free to write as much as you like :grouphug:

Thank you, Enarete! I'm trying to repeat "if it's scary, you're doing it right" this morning, as my appointment is in just a couple of hours 😓 I'm extremely nervous but am trying to keep telling myself that I can leave if I need to, and that it's just one hour — I can make it through an hour of anything, right? 😬

I think I'm also struggling with facing this appointment because not only is it the first one, but it's likely going to be the one that feels the most shameful/embarrassing, which I've found is a huge factor in what's driving my fear. Hearing everything that's wrong is going to be really, really tough. I did call this morning to make sure I'll be able to speak with the dentist before any kind of exams or x-rays, and the receptionist was really kind and understanding. I also have my little paperwork from this site all filled out so I can more easily communicate my fear and what's driving it to the dentist.

Trying to stay calm and centered for these next couple of hours and will keep telling myself that I've got this, even if it feels like I really, really don't. Here's hoping that I can post an update tonight regardless of the news I get, and that I don't chicken out or have a panic attack before I can make it to the appointment. Thank you again for the encouragement!
 
letsconnect

letsconnect

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Hi KMT, it sounds like you've done everything in your power to make sure things go well today! Keeping my fingers crossed that your new dentist is a good match 🤞! Let us know how you got on 🤗🍀
 
Enarete

Enarete

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Good luck today, let us know how it goes. You got this! ;)
 
K

KMT

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Jun 24, 2021
Messages
5
Hi all,

Wanted to give a post-appointment update! I think it went pretty well, all things considered. The dentist was very nice, and while he said a couple of things I didn't necessarily agree with, I felt like he truly listened to me and was reassuring about being gentle, not shaming or preaching to me, and ensuring I don't feel any pain for any future procedures. I did feel like I was going to have a panic attack when his assistant was taking some x-rays, but she was very patient and grabbed me some tissues (cry #1 for this appointment!), and the dentist came over to reassure me and to take the pictures off the big screen, which actually helped immensely. Something about seeing the x-rays made me much, much more anxious — probably another shame-related issue!

Given that I haven't been to the dentist in 10 years, I was expecting to have some pretty serious issues needing to be fixed. My mind has been spiraling ever since making the appointment (and honestly for years before then), and my back molar has been feeling worse and worse. It turns out that while I do have cavities (6 of them 😓), I don't need any root canals or crowns. I definitely started crying and panicking as he was doing the exam — something about that little metal hook and the numbers he was reading off to the assistant REALLY made me lose it a bit (cry #2!). But he took the time to reassure me and calm me down, let me know what was going on and that I had those cavities, and told me we can get it all fixed at my own pace and on a payment plan, if necessary. He even told me that he was pretty happy with the overall state of things given how long it had been, and that I had done a good job in the meantime, which felt really nice after all of my dentist/orthodontist experiences being centered around what I've done wrong!

So I'll be going back in 2 weeks to get the 3 cavities on the left side filled, then back a week or two after that for the next 3 (on the right side), then back a final time for a cleaning. And then I guess every 6 months after that for the rest of my life...hoping to have a clean slate so that I don't have to face quite so much fear again, even if I know I'll dread every appointment 🙃 He and I did talk about sedation for the cavity appointments, and he said he generally doesn't provide any — he said he likes to focus more on ensuring that each procedure is painless and that he and his staff are kind and supportive enough that it's not necessary, and that he does have nitrous but only uses it 1-2 times per year. Needless to say I'll be one of those 1-2 times — no needles in my gums without me being a little loopy!🤪 He did assure me that it will be painless, and when I explained that I had been told that by other dentists who then wouldn't believe me when I would complain of pain, he stressed that he will absolutely believe me. He also said each appointment should only take 40 minutes, which felt reassuring — I said earlier today that I can make it through an hour of anything, so I feel pretty confident that I can make 40 minutes work, too. My lovely partner also scheduled his first exam and cleaning in years for right after my next appointment so that he can be there for me, and as a show of support/solidarity ❤ though he's a weird type who actually likes the dentist...can't relate!

I'll likely keep updating this thread as things progress, and maybe when I'm done I'll have my own story to share in the Success Stories section of the forum! Fingers crossed. Thank you again to all the lovely people in this forum for sharing their stories and to Scaredbutready, Enarete, and letsconnect for your encouraging responses! It really has made a huge difference.
 
Enarete

Enarete

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Hey, thank you for the update, this sounds great, well done! :jump::jump::jump: Give yourself a huge pat on the back. Sounds like your dentist and the staff were very nice and supportive and that's the most important thing. Great to read that you finally had a good experience and can go from there now. 😍
 
krlovesherkids777

krlovesherkids777

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KMT

I just loved reading your story of the appointment and how supportive and kind your
dental team was!! I absolutely love how you said he said, "I will absolutely believe you when you complain of pain"... This is so reassuring and lovely.. Sounds like a great place! and great job for you doing it :)
 
letsconnect

letsconnect

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Congratulations 🥳!!! He sounds like he really does believe in making people comfortable, which is great :). You've done so well 🤗. Please let us know how you and your partner get on!
 
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