Overcoming a Dentist Phobia

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Dentophoboia: Fear of dentists and dental procedures. Does that describe you? It sure describes me. Like many, I avoided the dentist for years and years because of awful experiences I’d had  in my past. Just thinking about the dentist makes me cringe a little. It’s so bad, I can’t stand nail files because the grinding sound and feel reminds me of having my teeth drilled.

Yes, that’s right–no manicures and pedicures for me. Hate them!

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

Of course I floss every day

I have terrible teeth, which makes the whole thing that much worse, because when I do go I invariably need some work done. And yet, on Tuesday I’m going to go in and have a crown put on without being given an elephant tranquilizer first. Believe me, nobody’s more surprised than I am. I might even go so far as to say that I think I’m overcoming my dentist phobia. I’m not going to call myself cured yet, but I’m living in a peaceful cohabitation with the idea of dentistry and my teeth and I’m not freaking out, so I’d call that a  plus. Here are some tips:

  • Find a dentist you trust. I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but ask yourself honestly, do you really trust your dentist to not traumatize you? If you can’t say yes to that, then you need to either have a heart to heart with your dentist or find a new one.
  • Schedule a consult just to chat. This is just a talking appointment, where the dentist will take x-rays (if you need them) and will just chat about what needs to be done to your mouth. Does it look like you need work? Are you just due for cleanings? Here’s where you will be honest with your dentist about how much you hate dental work. Share some of the reasons why you’ve been fearful in the past and ask about ways to avoid problems.
  • Newer isn’t always better–it’s all about the doctor. There are all kinds of technological advances in dentistry these days, but just because a dentist uses them that doesn’t mean they’re a good dentist or that the newer technology is better. I made this mistake when we first moved to the area. Now my dentist is as old-school as ever (well, not ever, I mean he does believe in pain control) but he does great work and I’m not afraid of him.  Your relationship with the dentist is more important than any type of technique or technology.
  • Schedule a double-appointment slot. When you do have a cleaning or have work done, schedule a double appointment slot, or the first one in the morning or right after lunch, so that nobody (particularly you) feels rushed. The key to overcoming a fear is taking your time–that’s as much time as YOU, the patient, need for the procedure, not the dentist or hygienist. Schedule in advance to make sure that time is on the books before you get in the chair.
  • Ask the dentist to explain each procedure to you. And I mean explain down to the detail–ask the dentist to go over exactly what he or she is going to do in as much detail as you need before things get started, and then ask the dentist to let you know when he or she is doing each thing. Think of it as a full explanation and then an “are we there yet?” running commentary.
  • Establish a “Stop” signal. This one is a biggie for me–I have a small mouth and a quick gag reflex, and I always feel out of control and overwhelmed when the dentist gets going because I feel panicky if I need to swallow or something. My dentist and I have worked out that when I hold up my hand, he pulls everything out and I can spit, swallow, rest my jaw, or just pysch myself back up again. If he’s in the middle of something where he can’t stop, then I’ll know because he told me about it in the previous suggestion and he’ll stop as soon as he can. This is a big part of the trust factor and also where it’s essential to schedule extra time if you think you are going to take twice as long as a person normally does.
  • Better living through chemistry. Your dentist can prescribe a light sedative for you to take before you have any work done–be sure to bring a driver.
  • Crank up the tunes. I didn’t think that an iPod would be enough to overpower the sound of the drill, but it actually does, or close enough to it so that I can…
  • Find your Happy Place. I’ve never been one for meditation, but some deep breaths and finding your happy place really do help a lot in the dentist chair.
  • Reward yourself. Once you’ve made it through your procedure or cleaning, it’s definitely time to reward yourself. Go get a manicure, or buy a caramel apple, or whatever floats your boat. Anything to pat yourself on the back for a job well done!

Oh, and wish me luck on this crown thing. I cracked this tooth and I’m hoping I can just get a crown without a root canal, so send some good ju-ju my way!

The Scrivener

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2 Responses

  1. Ugh. I’m living with a temporary crown for another week until I go in to get the permanent one put in. I love the iTunes idea – never occurred to me to plug in music. My dentist has these glasses that show you a movie, but I’ve only used them for long procedures (had a root canal – rrrrrrrrrrrr) and her choices of movies are terrible!

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