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Terrified of 1st Dental Visit in 9 Years



Junior member
Aug 15, 2016
I'm not sure if this is quite the right place to post this, but I'm hoping to get some perspective in regards to severe dental phobia that has been consuming me the past few days.

For a variety of reasons, I have not been to the dentist in 9 years. This has been for a variety of reasons. Mostly because I've been apprehensive and put it off since I've never seemed to have major issues, as well as not having dental insurance for several years. Anyway, this past week, I decided it was time to finally purchase insurance and see a dentist, as I didn't want to go 10 years between visits. However, after purchasing the insurance this weekend (which I feel is starting to commit myself to going), I have been overcome with an almost crippling fear of what they'll find during my exam. While I haven't taken horrible care of my teeth over the years, and have gotten better in the past year or so, I feel like how could I have gone 9 years, and not taken perfect care of them, and not have major issues. I can handle having a deep cleaning, having to have some cavities filled, or even having to have a root canal or two. However, I'm terrified that I will have to have a tooth extracted, or multiple teeth extracted, or have such bad gum disease that it will require surgery or extraction. I'm also worried about needing multiple (more than 3 root canals). I keep imagining myself at the dentist office, with them discussing my x-rays, which will show that I have numerous teeth that are badly diseased.

I've been obsessively looking in my mouth over the past 2 days. I even had a family member who was kind enough to look also, especially for those parts of the mouth I can't see well. I don't see any visible signs of major decay, either black/brown discoloration or where part of a tooth is missing. I do have some small white spots on a few teeth near the gum line, which I've read online can be a precursor, or early, decay, but I'm not really worried about those. I have tartar building on several teeth that will need removal, but my gums looks pink and are not bleeding, nor do the gums look like they are receding or otherwise pulling away from the tooth. I do have some sensitivity in several teeth, which I always attribute to allergies. I've had tooth discomfort from allergies for probably about 20 years (so before my last dentist visit), but I'm worrying that I've used that to ignore what could be other issues. I did have one upper molar that was occasionally sensitive to cold about 6-9 months ago (a brief, sharp pain when having something very cold, but not reproduced on subsequent exposure to cold). It seems to have gone away, and I didn't really worry at the time, since I was under the impression that cold sensitivity was a sign of needing a root canal if the pain was severe and prolonged (which mine was not). Now though, I'm picturing that the tooth is dead, and will need to be removed (even though I think I can still feel sensitivity there when I have sinus problems). I also had a spot on my gum, near one of the lower molars, that bleed for about a week, a few years ago, but healed up easily. Again, I didn't worry at the time, but now I'm concerning I missed something more serious and it's now too late. I also have occasional tightness/pressure around my lower front teeth, which I've also read can be caused by allergies (and I've had for several years), but I keep picturing that somehow the gum is diseased in a way that I can't see and that those teeth will need to be pulled, or otherwise need some extensive treatment. None of my teeth feel loose, so I'm hoping that a good sign. I don't think my teeth or gums look bad, but I've convinced myself that there is some horrible, invisible decay that's rendered them too far gone for fillings or root canal treatment. I've already had my wisdom teeth out, when I was a teen, so I'm not worried about that, but I can't bear the thought of losing other teeth.

I realize no one can give me a diagnosis on this forum, and I'm not asking for that. However, I could use some honest opinions about whether what I'm describing, and what I'm fearing, are logical. I try to tell myself that if I had anything that serious, requiring extraction, or surgery, there would be signs that I could see that something is wrong. But my mind keeps going back to that worst case scenario. I'd like an honest answer, because I want to be prepared to handle whatever I have to do, but would it be highly unlikely that I would need extractions, or have advanced gum disease, without either having severe pain/sensitivity, obvious loose teeth, or bleeding, red gums? I keep trying to tell myself that, but then I've read that you can need a root canal without symptoms, so I imagine that I need either numerous root canals, or the teeth are so far gone they will need to be extracted. I'm also terrified of having to be put under general anesthesia. I know it's a comfort for some, but I honestly feel better with having them just use a local. Can pretty much anything I would need done in my mouth be done with local anesthesia?

I'm sorry this post is so long, but I really need to either reassure myself it's not going to be as bad as I imagine, or prepare myself for the worst. My dental insurance doesn't kick in until October, which I think is partly making my fear worse. Part of me would like to get it taken care of this week, part of me doesn't want to go at all. But I don't want to be in severe panic for the next two months.
I can absolutely promise you it will not be as bad as you think it is, especially with what you are describing.

I started my journey back to the dentist knowing full well I need broken molars removed that had become infected, but I also feared that the rest of my mouth would be in horrible shape. I cried during the x rays and when he was looking in my mouth. Guess what I needed aside from the few extractions I already knew about?? A whopping 2 fillings and a good cleaning. I was also convinced I had gum disease. Nope.

It's never as bad as you think and even if you do need a little work done you will be fine :)
Hi and welcome! First of all, congratulations on taking the first step - that is often the hardest part. Try not to let your mind run off and try not to think of worst-case scenarios (and stay away from Google :) ). Things are often not as bad as we think they are. We just need to get out of our own heads. You will hear this story over and over again around here - people who have gone without seeing a dentist for many years, who, when they finally go, find out that they don't more than a handful of fillings here and there.

I have been in your shoes, and I finally got myself back in the dentist's chair last summer after a 20+ year absence. I hadn't done a great job caring for my teeth over the years (I had started brushing much better, but still hadn't been flossing regularly), and was absolutely terrified about what they were going to find. Like you, I was always obsessively looking at my teeth, carefully examining every little spot on them. I had a bunch of visible cavities (and black spots that ended up being tartar), 3 teeth broken to the gumline, a visibly decaying front tooth (and another one that was chipped), and slightly puffy gums. While I had gone for an orthodontic consult before my first exam with my dentist, and was no longer convinced that I would end up in dentures, I was convinced that I had cavities in every tooth, needed multiple root canals (at least 5), several extractions, and that I had severe gum disease. I was absolutely dreading seeing my x-rays, and having the dentist tell me what was wrong with my teeth.

Imagine my surprise when my dentist went over my x-rays with me and told me that they didn't look so bad. Of course, when he looked in my mouth, there were more cavities than what showed up on the x-rays (13 in all - this was less than I was expecting), I was relieved that they could be treated with simple fillings. I didn't need any root canals or crowns or anything like that. Obviously, the broken teeth had to be removed, but there was nothing else that had to come out (except for possibly my wisdom teeth down the line, depending on how my orthodontics progress). My gum pockets all measured within normal ranges, and dentist also told me that my gums would go back to normal after a good, thorough cleaning. After adopting a regular flossing regimen, they were pink and healthy after only a few weeks. I was terrified of hearing just how bad my teeth were, but after coming up with a treatment plan and having a plan on how to fix things made things a lot easier and less scary for me.

Even if you need some work (I certainly did), it won't be as bad as you think. Honestly. :) Try not to overthink things and think of the worst-case scenarios. I know that's easier said than done - I still do this all the time. And remember to take things one step at a time.

Good luck :)
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Thank you so much to both of you for your replies. It really helps to hear from others that the actual diagnosis wasn't as bad as what you had imagined. I'm still very anxious, and I know that probably won't go away until after I've gone to the dentist, but your kind and encouraging words have helped reassure me some that my worst-case scenarios hopefully will not be the case. I'm sorry you've had to go through tooth extractions, but I appreciate hearing from your experiences that it wasn't something that was a surprise. For some reason, I think that's the thing I'm worried about most, so I'm hoping that since I don't have any visibly broken or decayed teeth, that anything else could be repaired with a filling, crown, or root canal. It does help too to know that I'm not alone in waiting so long to go to the dentist, and that others have been able to get through their treatments. I've also learned that both of my parents went through longer periods of not going to the dentist (5 and 8 years longer) than I have, around my same age, and did not need extractions or have gum disease, despite not taking the best care of their teeth then either. So, I'm hoping that will be a good sign for me.

I did find out, since posting this, that my dental insurance will actually start at the beginning of September, rather than October. Somehow, I managed the courage to call the dentist's office yesterday and make an appointment for about 3 weeks from now. I was able to get through the phone call fine, but pretty much had a breakdown after getting off the phone and knowing I had a set appointment. Still though, there's a tiny part of me that's starting to feel better that I'm beginning this process. I'm still terrified of hearing about what the x-rays and exam will find, and being overwhelmed by a long list of things that need to be fixed, and I keep running how I think that conversation will go through my head and how I'll be able to handle it. However, I'm trying to work on overcoming that, and focusing more on that I'll probably feel so much better after that initial appointment is done and I've begun working on whatever needs to be fixed. I did get a referral from my dad for a dentist that he really likes, and says is very kind, so I'm hoping she'll be gentle with me in regards to what needs to be done.