You don’t have to tell me how real the fear of dentists is for some people.
Been there, done that, got the T-shirt stamped “dental phobias“.
My story is pretty typical: I had a very bad experience as a child. It was in England more than 40 years ago. I was eight when a dentist removed two decaying back teeth without warning and without anesthetic. There was blood everywhere,
I screamed the place down and wouldn’t go near a dentist until my teens, despite my parents’ best efforts.
By then I needed quite a few fillings, but my same-age cousins showed so much bravado about going to their dentist that I was persuaded to accompany them. What they didn’t tell me was their dentist was an old duffer who didn’t think a local anesthetic was necessary for fillings.
I endured a couple of very painful fillings, had a subsequent horrific extraction experience with gas - I can still remember them holding the mask over my face as I struggled before passing out - and avoided dentists again for another three years.
At age 16, I discovered a dentist who would put petrified patients out with an injection of general anesthetic - even if they needed just a couple of fillings. I was still scared witless, but sleeping through the procedure was a breeze and in no time I’d had about 10 fillings. Relieved to have a quick fix, I avoided the dentist for several more years.
By the time I was in my mid 20s, I realized I needed some serious reconstruction to deal with misaligned teeth that were never straightened as a child, including a couple of fangs that made me look like Dracula. I also need several crowns.
All my previous dental treatment had been covered by Britain’s National Health Service - in essence public dentistry - but I was persuaded to try a private dentist for the more complex treatment I needed.
So, I took out a loan, dragged myself to the dentist and explained my terror at what lay ahead. I’ll forever be indebted to that man for reassuring me that a) he wouldn’t hurt me and b) local anesthetic would numb all pain.
He was right - and though I still can’t say I look forward to getting into the dentist’s chair, I’m no longer paralyzed with fear. I can deal with it.
So can you. Here are a few tips to help:
Shop around for a dentist you feel comfortable with. Dentists are eager to reassure nervous patients and many make a point of advertising “pain-free dentistry”. There really is such a thing because today dentists use gel inside the mouth that numbs the tissues before they inject the anesthetic. I often can’t believe I’ve been injected as I honestly have not felt a thing.
Talk to other patients - particularly those who have overcome their own fear of dentists - for support and encouragement.
Try meditation to calm your mind before a trip to the dentist. Walk into the dental office with confidence and focus on deep breathing to soothe your nerves. Some dentists also offer hypnosis to calm patients - try it.
The sound of the dreaded drill freaks some people out. Take your iPod or see if the dentist has headphones so you can listen to music while he or she is working. Also, I hate the bright light shining in my face so I wear my shades.
If it’s fear of the unknown that bothers you, have the dentist explain what he or she is doing. Alternatively, if the details bother you - don’t ask!
Though the memory of my childhood dental experiences will always be there, I’ve overcome being scared of the dentist with willpower and the incredible help, patience and professionalism of all the dentists who’ve treated me as an adult. You can too - take the first steps today!