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Please help! My partner has extreme dental phobia

B

Becci14

Junior member
Joined
Jun 20, 2020
Messages
1
Location
Hull
Hi everyone!

I've ended up on this forum to try to get some advice from people suffering from dental phobia, as I'm trying to help my partner.

Really, I don't even know where to start. I've been reading around here (and elsewhere) and often it says 'great - you've made the first step by coming here' - well, my partner hasn't even made that step...

Even talking about teeth/dentists makes him very anxious (it has ruined whole days in the past where he's just started crying uncontrollably). Some time ago he admitted to me that he has been having toothaches on and off for over 6 months.

The way he phased it was essentially that now his life was over - his teeth have finally caught up with him. Either he will have to live with the constant pain of his teeth slowly degrading and falling out, or with the pain that the dentists will inflict on him constantly for the rest of his life.

He last had work done on his teeth as a child, and has not been since then, and is embarrassed about this. The work he had then caused a lot of pain, and he believed it was unnecessary/ineffective. He believes that dentists will force/trick him into having procedures he doesn't need, and that he will have to go back over and over, forever, and that his teeth are already beyond repair.

It is difficult for me to argue with this in a convincing manner as there's no way of knowing how bad his teeth are, and what needs doing.

He’s said what he’d like to happen is to be drugged in his sleep, and wake up and it all be fixed, which obviously isn’t an alternative, but I’ve explained that from what I’ve read if the dentist agrees that the anxiety is a big problem they will be happy to offer sedation.

I have found a local clinic that is meant to be good, and have made some initial queries, but they basically said ‘oh yes, we can discuss all this at your appointment’, but the problem is that we are nowhere near the point where he would attend an appointment...

What would people recommend doing? Does anyone have any ‘arguments’ that might be helpful? It’s 15-20 years since he’s been to a dentist - what changes has there been since then?

Do people know of helpful studies that might be useful (he is very sceptical of dental procedures being inadequately researched and dentists being biased, so proper science would be helpful).

I feel like I should be doing something akin to ‘exposure therapy’ and at this point in time I think just having some ‘positive arguments’ to introduce to him so that the conversation doesn’t just feel like I’m inflicting pain on him by talking about it… I’m thinking maybe do a table, like you do in CBT, with the different beliefs he has and starting with some of the ‘easier’ ones and help him realised they are irrational. I feel like I need a degree in psychiatry to deal with this!

So, yes, if anyone has any ideas that might be helpful, that would be very much appreciated.
 
Enarete

Enarete

Super Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Sep 18, 2017
Messages
2,720
Hi Becci14,

I am sorry to read what your partner is going through and see how difficult this must be for you. You see how this is affecting him and are doing your best to help, but you are also aware that your possibilities to help are limited.

Beating dental fear is a (long) journey and for most people, the step of actually scheduling an appointment is the one that takes the longest time and by that I mean sometimes months, sometimes even years. When it comes to fears and phobias, people need some time to even come to / get used to the idea that it may be possible to overcome it.

There seem to be a sense of deep mistrust of dentists and dentistry in general, even to a point of believing they would force him into unnecessary procedures or even working without proper scientific background (not to speak about the pain during treatment he expects). There is also the embarrassment and the belief that his teeth are beyond saving anyway, so why even trying. On top of that, how difficult must it be to deal with it, if even just a chat about teeth makes you cry for days.. it's not a surprise that he is avoiding the topic altogether and doesn't see himself anywhere near a solution.

There are certain phases we go through when it comes to a change of any kind and sadly you can't make anyone take action before they are entirely ready. What's worse, if you push without him having made this inner shift, it will most likely have negative consequences in the future. You've certainly come across stories of people who forced themselves to go and have everything treated, just to avoid dentist for further 20 years afterwards. You wouldn't want your boyfriend to get to this stage and you wouldn't want his frustration to turn against you. I don't know how your relationship is and how much he participates in your conversations about the dentist and how much is about you trying to help him get there, but confronting people with something they are not ready to get confronted with, can do a damage.

When it comes to exposure therapy or CBT techniques, I would be careful with it, based on the reasons mentioned above. If you feel your boyfriend may benefit from therapy, then finding out how he feels about that idea may be the best thing to do.
One aspect that is very relevant in dental fear is the loss of control. People feel (or experienced in their past) like something is done to them, they are forced into it and they have no say in it and can't influence the circumstances and trying to avoid this from happening again is often the very basis of dental phobia. This is also the reason why any pressure from you may be difficult.

Going to sleep and waking up fixed certainly is a possibility with sedation, however as you recognized, the belief that this can be solved and readiness to tackle it and start moving forward comes long before practicalities about treatment, and I'm afraid, your boyfriend needs to come to this point on his own.

By the way, a clinic that knows this story and just says "yeah, we can discuss this in the first appointment" would for me, already be out. The right answer would be an email consultation or a phone call just to have a chat. A nervous patient friendly clinic will appreciate that sometimes, simply scheduling an appointment is not possible.

Does your boyfriend know about our website? Does he know you posted here on the forum?

All the best wishes
 
Last edited:
J

JaySee19

Member
Joined
Jun 17, 2020
Messages
77
Location
Germany
This is a really tough one!
First of all you can’t do it for him, but you can support him and, if he wants, make an appointment. When I went through my first phase of dental phobia it helped enormously that my husband picked up the phone and made the appointment. That was a step I just couldn’t take on my own, but once the appointment existed I went. But of course he had to do it with my permission.
If he’s not at that stage then he maybe needs to think long and hard about how he wants to live the rest of his life. He’s already crying in pain, and the damage that is causing the pain is not going away. The nerve of the offending tooth may die and give him some relief, but that may only be temporary as abscesses often form as a consequence. Does he really want to live like that for the rest of his life? In pain, with abscesses, in the knowledge that abscesses can turn into something much more nasty?
Then there’s the long-term health issues. He obviously likes his science. He does know what consequences a mouth full of pathogenic bacteria can have on your heart, brain etc.? Plus the inevitable halitosis is probably not great for relationships!
Dentistry is always improving. I can honestly say that it is pain-free for me at the moment. That may be because my nerves run where they’re supposed to so that they have no problems whatsoever numbing me up. It may be different for your partner, but he’s in pain at the moment anyway.
Dentistry is scary, and if not painful, then at a minimum uncomfortable. But you don’t go to the dentist every single minute of every day (as you do with tooth pain). And they can usually get you out of pain very quickly. They can’t ”force” you to do anything, you are in charge of your own body and they tend to give you options these days. If you don’t want to do something, then don’t. But get yourself out of pain so you can think rationally again.
Of course it’s a long-term commitment. And, of course as we get older things don’t work as well as they did when we were teenagers. So they need to get fixed. Like a car repair. If you don’t change the oil you ruin the motor. Things need to get fixed regularly, which may be why he thinks dental work is ineffective/unnecessary. It doesn’t last for ever - but it can tide you over for decades!
I don’t think any external arguments are going to convince him, because basically he’s responding to his gut feelings - and then trying to find justification for them. He knows though, in his heart that he doesn’t want to live like this for the rest of his life. And he needs to think the consequences through.
Good luck!
 
letsconnect

letsconnect

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 1, 2005
Messages
5,169
It's great that you're trying to help your partner :respect: - thanks for reaching out and posting here! It must be quite frustrating for anyone who hasn't experienced dental phobia themselves to try and help when the solution seems so obvious (see a dentist and get it sorted).

I don't think your partner's beliefs are irrational, they are based on his first-hand experiences so arguing them away won't work. It would be akin to telling a victim of gaslighting that they're seeing things. I know that's not what at all what you had in mind! But it's what it might feel like to him.

We have an interview with a dentist who has a great interest in anxiety management (Mike Gow) here on this website, and recently created a short PDF version which you could print out and read, and then maybe leave lying around. If your partner is interested, he might take a look at it while you're out sometime. I wouldn't draw his attention to it though or make him read it.

PDF - Mike Gow Interview

That's just an idea that came to my mind. Personally what I found helpful when I was at the stage your partner is edging towards was reading other people's stories (we have a success stories section on this forum). Just knowing that either people felt the same way was very helpful.

I also think the interview I posted above might have helped me had it existed at the time.

We've got a number of other interviews on our website, but they are quite a bit longer. Maybe we should produce abbreviated versions of other interviews as well?
 
letsconnect

letsconnect

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
5,169
There are also some related threads here:





 
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