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The beginning of the end...of a lifelong fear



Junior member
Nov 8, 2012
Philadelphia, PA, USA
Wow - I wish I had found this site BEFORE I had to embark on the dental mini-odyssey that I choose to view as the beginning of the end of my long-standing dental phobia!

A bit about me:
I am a 34-year old scientist in the states who had not been to the dentist in 12 years (until recently, but more on that below); not since the relatively uneventful removal of my wisdom teeth. My fear of the dentist is rooted in a few bad childhood experiences, although nothing truly traumatic. Additionally, my mother had always been terrified of the dentist and made no secret of the fact. What started out as the run-of-the-mill "I don't like going to the dentist" sentiment morphed into something larger and larger as the years of not going to the dentist went by, until I realized ~5 years ago that it was a real terror that was constantly overshadowing my life. Before that I was always coming up with semi-valid excuses for not going to the dentist right then, and making deals with myself about when I would go. After a certain point, I realized that I was kidding myself and that it was going to take a big obvious problem to get me there.

I have always been fastidious about at home dental hygiene, but my rational brain (see occupation=scientist) knew that would not stave off all problems. The fear of the inevitable problem slowly infiltrated every day of my life. I would stress about going on vacations and having a dental problem come up while abroad. I would have trouble sleeping for fear of when a problem would happen, and how serious it would be. I worried that any problem would surely happen over a holiday and that I would be in agonizing pain for days. It negatively affected my relationship with my husband, who until recently thought I just didn't like the dentist (the way a "normal" person doesn't like the dentist) and that I was just being irresponsible. Every day I would think about what "the problem" would be, when it would happen, how bad it would be, how expensive it might be to fix, on and on and on... All of this while functioning very highly in every other aspect of my life.

Unlike many whose stories I have read, I am lucky to NOT suffer from general anxiety problems. I have a high tolerance for pain and - deep down - knew that no dental treatment would cause me as much pain as other injuries I had endured just fine. The dentist situation is the only fear in my life that ever paralyzed me to inaction, as I usually take a head-on approach to things. Mild fear of heights? Jump out of a plane! Nervous about needles? Get some piercings and become a regular blood donor! Scared of the dentist? Stick head into sand and pretend there will never be a problem even though that is ridiculous.

So, by now you have surely guessed that I did indeed suffer "a problem". Over Labor Day weekend (yikes a holiday!) while traveling (just like I knew it would always happen), a giant chunk of an upper molar with a filling from childhood cracked off while I was flossing my teeth. I was very thankful, and also completely shocked, to not be in any pain. However, I was an emotional basket case as I knew the time had come. The lack of pain tempted me to ignore this problem, so I immediately told my husband what happened for accountability's sake. I also told him about the severity of my fear, and he was so compassionate and supportive.

I got an appointment with my husband's dentist for a few days later, and from that first appointment forward it was like a giant weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I do feel very lucky that the dentist and his staff happen to be wonderful. I was open abut how terrified I was and how long it had been. Everyone was kind and gentle, and they did not lecture me about not having gone to the dentist for so long. Their attitude of "you're here now and we'll make a plan to go forward" put me in the right mindset. After 12 years of dental neglect I knew there would be problems, and I was right. However, as is often the case, they were nowhere near as bad as my mind had blown them up to be. The cracked tooth needed a root canal, and four other teeth needed fillings. Even though I knew I would be coming back (and for the dreaded root canal - of all things most terrifying - egads!) I left the office with greater peace of mind than I had had in quite a while. The status of my teeth was no longer a scary unknown; I knew the problems and the plans for the solutions.

The cracked tooth was addressed first with a root canal and crown done over three appointments in total. I had built up a root canal in my mind as the worst of all possible things, but it was completely manageable. I had nitrous oxide along with the novacaine, but would likely just skip the nitrous if I have to do this again. The crown prep at the next appointment was more intimidating since it involved a lot more drilling, but I surprised myself by getting though that just fine as well. By the time it came for the appointments to fill the cavities, I was actually feeling like a bit of a dental pro - a pro with jitters, but still...

To wind up this very long story, my 12 years of dental neglect culminated in 6 appointments over an 8 week span to undo the damage. I have greater peace of mind than I have in years, and feel SO LUCKY that things were not even worse. I have my next appointment scheduled for a cleaning and check-up in the spring and hope to get a clean bill of dental health; but even if I don't, I know I can handle it.

Best of luck to anyone who is in a similar situation. If you ever feel you are having a particularly brave day, I would urge you to bite the bullet (gently, so as not to cause further tooth damage) and make a dental appointment. I was amazed at how relieved I felt just knowing exactly what the problems were. Even though I knew I was worried about the dentist, it was one of those things were I didn't truly realize how much it was consuming me until it was gone.
Well done you!

Your story echoes mine, except that it was a front tooth broken off that made a dental visit inevitable. The feeling of release is wonderful isn't it. I am now on 6 month check ups, so any problems will be picked up at an early stage. I too found a wonderful dentist, e-mailing first to tell him my problems of fear and shame.

Lovely to read another story of a new life beginning.

Rhiannon137 :welcome: to the forum and Thank you for taking the time to tell your story. Well done you for getting the treatment you needed and how good that you feel able to continue to keep going and getting regular checks. :respect::respect::respect:
Back in September of last year, as I was leaving the first of my multitude of appointments, the receptionist asked if I would like to go ahead and schedule my next 6 month cleaning/exam. I started to say no - that I would schedule it at a later date, but I stopped myself and had her put me in the books for March 2013. I am so glad that I did. My reminder card for that appointment arrived in the mail today. I am certainly not excited about the idea of going in to the dentist, but I know that I will go since the commitment was already made. If the card had arrived saying that I was due to SCHEDULE my cleaning/exam, I know it would have been all too easy to just never make the call.

The reminder card also buoyed my spirits in a way. For so long, I had been "someone who cannot tolerate the dentist" that it had become a fundamental part of my identity. Now, I am just another person who gets a reminder card to go to their dental appointment. I am hopeful that this exam will not reveal any new problems since I completed my remedial dentistry project in November. However, having been through a number of procedures in just a few weeks, I know I can deal with anything they might find. Before I leave, I will make sure they schedule me for another visit in the fall.
Good for you :jump::jump::jump: Let us know how you get on. Everything crossed for you :claps::claps::claps:
Good for you, Rhiannon137, and good luck with your upcoming cleaning!

I'm just finishing up a year-long course of treatments to reverse many years away, and I can't begin to tell you how wonderful it feels to go in for a normal cleaning, like a normal person. I agree with you-- I scheduled my next six-month checkup before I left my last one, to minimize the chance of putting it off this fall.

Congratulations on facing your fear and finding yourself a caring dentist to help you back to a healthy smile.

So, my first regular 6-month dental check-up occurred yesterday, and I am pleased to report several positive anecdotes related to the experience.

1) This is somewhat unrelated to the exam (aside from coincidental timing), but relates to how (sort of) overcoming my dental phobia has had an unexpected positive outcome for me professionally. I was recently offered an opportunity to teach several basic biochemistry lectures at a local dental school to cover for a faculty member who is out on leave. If this had come up last year, I am embarrassed to admit that I would almost certainly have declined the offer. That's right - I was SO terrified of all things dental that I would have passed up a chance to add some Ivy League teaching to my CV just because it would have involved being in a room full of people who were not even close to being dentists yet. This year, I jumped at the chance. Yay!

2) I will admit that in the week or two leading up to yesterday's "routine" exam, I was starting to feel very anxious. I was irrationally thinking that it would result in having to go back 6 more times for various treatment and, even though I knew I could handle it, I really just didn't want to. I was also feeling VERY anxious about which hygienist would be doing my cleaning. My first exam involved a lovely woman whom I'll call Susie - she was patient with my fears, treated me gently, stopped frequently to let me know what was happening and see that I was okay, made jokes at the right times, and was just generally awesome. During the course of my subsequent treatments, Susie was the assistant for one other appointment while the others were attended by other hygienists whom I'll call Mary and Katie. Mary was always patient and gentle, but not quite as indulgent or awesome as Susie; Katie was . . . hmm - I want to put this nicely . . . very efficient at her job, but not the most comforting individual I've ever encountered.
The thought pattern began circulating in my head "I wonder who I'll get for the cleaning. I hope it's Susie. If not Susie, I hope it's Mary. Oh god - I really hope it's not Katie. What will I do if it's Katie? Will I feign sudden illness and leave? No - I'll be brave. Oh - I really hope it's Susie . . ." This inner turmoil went on for a few days until I had a revolutionary (no, not really revolutionary, actually pretty obvious) idea: I called the office and asked if it would be possible to request my cleaning be done by Susie. The receptionist said that would be no problem at all, that for this cleaning I happened to have already been scheduled with Susie, and that she would note my preference in my chart for scheduling future appointments. What do you know? The people at the dentist's office generally want to meet their patient's preferences and needs.

3) After all of my encroaching anxieties, the cleaning/exam itself was fairly anticlimactic. They only do Xrays yearly (unless they see something suspicious with their eyes) so I got to skip gagging on the plastic apparatus until I go back in September (yes - it's already scheduled). Susie was as patient, nice and chatty as I remembered as she went to work with her ultrasonic cleaner followed by some manual scraping that was creepy and unpleasant, but not at all painful. It all took ~20-30 minutes. She flossed my teeth, I rinsed with some mouthwash, and she called the dentist in for the actual exam. He looked around for a few minutes, poked on a couple of teeth with his (still-terrifying even though he has NEVER hurt me with it) metal poker, and sent me on my way with a goodie bag and an "everything looks great, kiddo!"

I know that I will not be excited when the September appointment rolls around, but I feel like I am slowly joining the club of "people who go to the dentist regularly" and it's kind of awesome. Even if I were to have an emergency problem crop up, I know that I will not beat myself up in the "if only I'd been taking better care of my teeth" way. I AM taking better care of my teeth!

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