This is my next submission to Voices for the newsletter and just thought I would share it here with you all.
The Joy of Going to the Dentist!
© Don Shetterly 03/15/03
Going to the dentist sounds like so much fun doesn’t it? In fact, as you are reading this, I am certain that you just feel the desire to make a dentist appointment? Right? NOT!
For many people, going to the dentist can be one of the most frightening experiences imaginable and for some; the anxiety level may increase once inside the dentist office. Between 6–14% of the population avoid attending the dentist because of the anxiety about treatment according to the University Dental Practice. In my opinion, the number is much higher than that. Between 45-55% of patients who attended the dentist are anxious in the dental environment.
So, if you are like I am and one of the 6-14% of the population, rest assured because there is hope. There is a way through the anxiety and into the dentist chair. You are saying sure, right, you’re nuts man! Well if it wasn’t for the success I have had, I would not be making these statements. For I fought and struggled to make it to the dentist without letting the anxiety get the best of me. Let me tell you my brief story about dental anxiety.
A few years ago after neglecting my teeth in all ways including daily care, my teeth had chipped and broken so badly that I would barely open my mouth in public. I didn’t smile, and when I talked, I talked in a way to keep my teeth from showing. It was humiliating, embarrassing and it robbed whatever remaining self-confidence I had. After one final moment where I chipped a tooth (at a Voices Conference), I was in pain and my mouth was in very bad shape. I decided with the help of a close survivor friend of mine that it was time to go to the dentist. I was scared to death to even make the call. With this friend’s help I managed to get the courage up to make the call and told the dentist office on the phone that I was scared to death. There were many things that I did to get myself there which helped drastically. It did not take the anxiety completely away but managed to help me get in the door. I will share more of the things that I did later on in this article but just so you know where I am personally coming from.
There are many reasons for dental anxiety, phobia and fears. Reasons are numerous and most relate to an unpleasant dental experience in childhood. This could include careless comments made by a dentist or hygienist during a past examination. A severe discomfort with feeling helpless and/or out of control in the dental situation is also a major one. For me, the sense of embarrassment of your dental neglect and fear of ridicule and or belittlement when you go to the dentist was beyond manageable at the time for me. In addition there are scary dental stories told by family or friends, negative portrayals of dentists in movies, newspapers and the general media as well as the overall sense of depersonalization in the dental process. Today’s necessary use of barrier precautions such as masks, latex gloves and shields has only added to the anxiety people experience. A very common one for me is just the general fear of the unknown, which affects me in more places than just the dentist office.
No matter what the reason or how recent or in the past it was, the anxiety people like myself face is real as is the air we breathe. Many times, the result of dental phobia in a classic sense of the word is “avoidance behavior”. Avoidance behavior is as it sounds – the patient does virtually everything possible to avoid the threatening situation they face. And while the patient is usually well aware that the fear it totally irrational, they often feel unable to do much to change this. As an outcome, the features of a panic attack associated with phobic situations include heart palpitations, feeling sick, nauseous, fainting and difficulty breathing. For me it would include many of these things along with heightened nervousness several hours before a dental visit, increase sweating and in some cases a greater sense of anger towards anything and everything.
But, I don’t want to leave you thinking that you are a hopeless case or that it is not possible to overcome this and be able to plop your behind in the dentist chair. Like I shared earlier, I struggle greatly with going to a dentist. I would rather be forced to do almost anything but going to the dentist. So let me tell you some of the things that I did to help myself deal with all of this and than later on, I will include other ideas and recommendations from people who have struggled through this as well.
When I first made the call to the dentist office, I told them that I was very afraid of going but I knew I needed to go. They treated me so patiently, caringly and gentle. I was in tears that day but after telling them how scared I was and that it was connected to some not so nice days growing up, they did everything possible to help make my visit as easy as they could. Of course I usually take Xanax to help with the anxiety because some times it is more than I can manage and there is nothing wrong in my view with doing this. Just make sure your dentist knows about it. A friend accompanied me to my first visit which was a relief considering how difficult it was for me to actually walk in the door. In addition, I had a CD of inspirational songs put together that I would play on my way to the dentist office. These songs included “I Won’t Back Down” (Tom Petty), Santorini (Yanni), George Winston music, “How Can Anyone Ever Tell You” (Shaina Noll), among others. I also would read the poem “I Give You Back” by Joy Harjo, which is a very empowering poem to me. There was other things as well that I did like wearing comfortable cool clothing and then letting the dentist know how I was doing, asking questions and having them explain what they were doing at various points. Of course these things worked for me and I am sure that each person is different in their approach to what works and what doesn’t. Only you will be able to find the most appropriate things for yourself.
The most important step to overcoming dental anxiety is finding a good dentist. A good dentist is one who is patient, is highly competent, endeavors to make each meeting pain free, genuinely cares about you and has the ability to nurture you through past traumas. It takes a true partnership between the patient and the dentist, a growing trust, and a growing relationship that cannot nor should not be pushed faster than the patient can accept.
Here are some additional things that may help you as well
· Sedations through IV, oral or inhalation methods
· General Anesthesia
· Yoga or other relaxation methods.
· Support of your close family and friends at your dental visits
· Briefly talk with your dentist about where your fear comes from
· Find the most appropriate dentist that cares about you as a total person.
· Talking with your therapist concerning the fears and your dental experiences.
· Writing in a journal about what you experience and you are able to accomplish
· No surgery or procedures done on the first visit. Consultation only.
· Discussing with the dentist what the plan is and what steps are necessary.
· Making sure that the dentist allows you stop the procedure for a moment if necessary.
· If the dentist will not discuss or respect your anxiety, find a new dentist!
· Make sure the dentist answers all your questions that you have.
· Do not schedule appointments during stressful times in your life if you can help it.
· Make sure the dentist lets you know when there is going to be discomfort or pain.
· If a dentist belittles you for your lack of dental care, find another dentist!
Sources of Information:
My personal experiences
Male Survivor (www.malesurvivor.org) - postings from various members
Dental Reference.com (www.dentalreference.com/html/dental_phobia.html)
Dental Fear.org (www.dentalfear.org/Intro.html)
The University Dental Practice (www.udp.org.uk/articles/treatments/DentalAnxiety.html)
Save Your Smile (www.saveyoursmile.com/healtharticles/dzdentalanxiety.html)