An experience of overcoming dental phobia

by Silky Red

Fun at the dentist

I had never had any problems with going to the dentist when I was young. I enjoyed the occasion, receiving a sticker for my excellent teeth. However, when I was about eleven years old, the dentist discovered that I had two adult teeth growing at the front of my mouth that were unusual. I was sent away for X-Rays and treated as a special case. I had two teeth (cuspids) that were growing that would look like large fangs if permitted to grow naturally. When I smiled they would be prominent. I was given the choice to have them removed and this is what happened. As my teeth were considered to be quite rare, my father mounted my ‘fangs’ onto wooden plaques which I still have today. They were huge even at that stage! My baby teeth were intact and I wasn’t put off going to the dentist.

My mother didn’t wish for my brother and myself to have any fillings, so we had special treatment done whereby a special substance was applied to our teeth. The experience of having this done was unpleasant. However, through my mother’s neurosis about us not having fillings and her obsession in us brushing our teeth, I began to develop problems. I found brushing my teeth to be an uncomfortable experience and I didn’t do it properly.

On one occasion I went to our dentist and in the waiting room I could hear the dentist screaming at a patient for not looking after his teeth properly. I was shaking by the time I went to see him but he was fine with me, reassuring me that my teeth were still looking good and instructing me on how to brush them.

A fear becoming ingrained

After leaving home, many years passed before I visited a dentist again. My front teeth began to look discoloured and so I registered with a dentist and received treatment. However, the occasion was not without trauma...I physically attacked the dentist suddenly. I don’t know who was more shocked; the dentist or myself! He had been working on my front teeth and I didn’t know exactly what he was doing or how long it was going to take. Suddenly, with fear, I tried to push him away from my mouth and he told me that if I didn’t allow him to continue with his work, then I would be in so much pain I would be begging for him to finish it. Consequently he managed to complete his work with me shaking and I never returned to him again.

Unfortunately I don’t believe he did actually finish the work on my front teeth as it wasn’t long before my teeth decayed further and I had to visit the dentist again. By now a phobia was quite firmly entrenched. Everything about the dentist caused anxiety from the actual building to the fear provoking sound of the drill. I didn’t wait for my appointment and as the years went by, my teeth decayed to the point that they were quite dark and decayed at the front. I couldn’t smile anymore, I felt so ashamed of how I looked. I experienced extreme toothache at times, mostly due to wisdom teeth, but I put up with the pain. However, on one occasion the pain became too much. I couldn’t tolerate it anymore so I had an emergency appointment. By this point my daughter had been born and when I was pregnant, I had a craving for mints which certainly didn’t help my teeth and I didn’t brush them regularly either due to my anxiety with brushing. The dentist had to remove a tooth that had decayed so badly it was causing the pain. However, despite finally getting to the dentist and enduring the anxiety, the dentist didn’t remove the tooth well and by the evening I was in agony again, swearing that he had removed the wrong tooth. Returning to the dentist the following day, I discovered that he hadn’t removed the wrong one but had simply yanked it out in such a fashion it had caused a wound; a wound that had to be dressed at the dentist every day for a week.

Addressing the fear

After this experience, a few more years passed and I still couldn’t smile. People made cruel comments and I hated my teeth intensely. I promised myself that one day I would go to the dentist when I felt more able to do so. However, my previous experiences combined with my mother’s somewhat neurotic influence when I was a child had created a phobic reaction to the entire dentist experience. I had to find a way to overcome my fears with the positive reward of being able to smile again.

I was fortunate enough to find a sympathetic dentist in Plymouth and I began my own version of systematic desensitisation. At first, I just visited the dentist with the idea of getting used to the environment; the noises and smells. After a few weeks, I went into the dentist’s room to look around and then I had a check up and managed to stay in the dentist’s chair long enough for him to consider the work that needed to be done. The next time I had X-rays and had to be completely still with a racing heart! I think the dentist saw me as a challenge as there was plenty of work to do on my teeth such as wisdom teeth removal, cavities filled and my front teeth also filled and made to look presentable. This was scheduled to be completed over many weeks and for me, this is when the real work started. He started with small jobs and worked up to the bigger tasks for me such as removing teeth and every time I went I endured anxiety. It started to get a little better towards the end and the results were amazing. I started to smile again, not with brimming confidence as I had gaps in my teeth but I was able to talk and laugh without feeling so self conscious.

A positive experience

However, once the work was completed, I slipped into not going again and a number of years passed before I returned to the dentist. This time I found an even better dentist, who was experienced with anxious patients. This time I trusted him implicitly. My teeth had begun to decay again, especially the front ones, and I had lost my confidence all over again but my new dentist helped to restore it and was the best ever! He was calm, reassuring and made me feel that I could do anything! I still see him today, my teeth are getting better all the time, and I laugh and joke and very nearly enjoy going.

The moral to this story is...keep trying, never give up and find a caring dentist who specialises in anxious patients. You can have lovely teeth and beat that phobia!




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