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Reasons for success - coping with fear at the dentist



Jun 17, 2020
I am scared of dentists. It’s just part of me, but sometimes it’s so crippling that I can‘t even imagine calling to make an appointment and would almost rather die than go to a dentist. At other times - like now - it’s under control and I curse my old self for letting things get so bad. I am still very nervous before appointments, but I am not scared or terrified any more and I try to tell myself that the nerves are “expectation” or even “excitement” - it’s pretty much the same nervous feeling in my stomach and I try to trick my psyche into thinking they are good feelings!

And as I’m pretty pleased that I’m no longer scared I was wondering why.

First - I have found a dentist that really suits me. I really have hit the jackpot! He is empathetic, kind, gentle, considerate, he listens, he takes time and he answers all my questions. He also wants to save my teeth - in particular one that is causing major problems (and drove me back to the dentist in the first place). And that suits me, as I want to save my teeth too! As far as I can judge he is competent, but we’ve only known each other for 3 1/2 months so I can’t give a definitive answer there. So far nothing has fallen out, or off, or caused extra pain, he hasn’t hurt me during the procedures, his injections are painless, my new fillings look like real tooth and my root-canalled tooth is painless.

Secondly, I too am different. I’m older for a start and have decided that if I’m going to have to go through all this (and I do!) then it’s also going to be on my terms. I’m more confident and I want to know what is going on, and now I ask the questions and try to avoid being the rabbit, trapped in the headlights of the oncoming car, frozen and unable to move. The dentist’s bedside manner makes it easier to shake off my rabbit behaviour, but I also think I’ve reached a stage in life where I would change dentists if he didn’t suit me.

Thirdly - the internet and Dr. Google. I haven’t been to the dentist for quite a while and there wasn’t the wealth of information around in the bad old days when I used to go. Dr. Google is not always to be recommended, but if you want to find out what a root canal means, and what happens during a deep cleaning it is great. And I do want to know what is being done or is going to be done to my teeth and mouth. It’s part of being in control. It helps me ask the right questions, which in turn makes the dentist take me seriously, so we decide together what the best options are. And I’m not that vulnerable rabbit or a turtle on my back having things done to me.

Another aspect of the internet and social media shows me that I am extremely lucky because my teeth are not really that bad and I am nowhere near as phobic as many people. I don’t need heaps of extractions, the two teeth that were broken could be saved with fillings, my teeth aren’t loose (although gum disease is my biggest problem at the moment), anything that is bad can be fixed. Even better, I can afford to get them fixed as I live in Europe where there is a reasonable health system and I had the foresight to get private insurance, specifically for dental purposes, years ago. And I don’t get panic attacks, break down in tears at the dentist, have problems with gagging, shake with fear, need sedation, run away in the middle of procedures, cry before appointments or anything like that. In fact, I feel a bit of a fraud - and very ashamed. So many people overcome real panic to get their teeth fixed and I couldn’t overcome a little bit of fear for so many years. My dentist also volunteers to help people in Africa and it was very chastening to read how villagers travel for days just to see a dentist - and I’ve got 6 within walking distance and didn’t take advantage of all my privilege for many years.

So, I hope the bad old days never return. But I also know I will have to work on myself to keep the fear at bay and continue with my success story. Basically I have to keep this up for the rest of my life.