Fearing the dentist

I’ve spent the past few hours mollycoddling my older sister, who is terrified to go to the dentist. She agrees the dentist we saw when we were little was a great guy, and that she hadn’t issues then. She doesn’t know (or will not say) why she is terrified. However, she has broken a tooth and has to go in today.

We’ve all had bad experiences with dentists, I’m sure. I’ve had one that would have given Dr. Scrivello a run for his money. Another had the funkiest breath I ever had the displeasure to deal with. However, as with many services, you search until you find someone you’re comfortable with and go your every six months.

I’m lucky in that I have not had extensive dental work, at least as an adult. As a kid, the dentist chair was very familiar. TheKid had a very bad experience when she was young, but has moved past it and now is fine. I do not know why Sis is so petrified. In talking to a friend, she also has an extreme fear of the dentist, so much so that she has to be sedated even for a cleaning. She doesn’t know where her fear comes from, either.

If you fear the dentist - why? If not, how do you deal with those who do? I’m now getting to the point where I am annoyed with Sis, and my ability to be supportive is declining rapidly.

Vanity issues? Maybe she’s afraid her appearance will be altered?

“I thrill when I drill a bicuspid
It’s swell, though they tell me I’m maladjusted …”

Love that movie. I have the soundtrack and my kids wore out this song when they were little.

She doesn’t want other peoples fingers in her mouth. That’s all she will say. I hope her appearance will be altered - I currently have to look away when she smiles.

You know how they say the sense of smell is tied to memory most strongly? For me, just the smell of a dentist’s office make me feel dread.

Going to the dentist is never a pleasent experience. Even for a simple cleaning it requires you to hold your mouth open uncomfortable and listen to unpleasent sounds and smells. If you have ever had a bad experience, I think it increases dramatically.

I’m not terrified per se, I just don’t … like it. The last time I saw the dentist was after a hiatus of about fifteen or so years. That was about two and a half years ago, and coincidentally I have an appointment this Friday :eek:

One problem I have is with the TMJ (jaw joint) – it’s extraordinarily painful for me to “open wide,” and holding it in that position for a long time is miserable. I’ve yet to have a cavity (or wisdom teeth removed), so I don’t know what’s in store if there’s ever a problem to be worked on. Just the cleaning and probing is a horrible experience. Like scratching a blackboard inside my mouth. That pick … that horrible, metal pick threatening to rip into my gums and scraaaaaaaappppiiinnnnggggg along my teeth …

I have fear of the dentist. Probably because it’s always been challenging to get my mouth frozen. 1 time in 3 the freezing doesn’t take. Over many years going to dentists who did not see this as a problem I discovered (thank you straight dope!) sedation dentistry.

Here are my suggestions;

Try to arrange for the very first appointment of the day. Waiting around for 30-40 mins, anticipating isn’t going to help.

Consider a dentist that uses gas. The gas really relieves the anxiety, and if you’re feeling tense you just take a real deep breath and it goes away. (It is more costly, but if you’re only going a couple of times a year, it may well be worth it.)

Own up. Convince her to confess her fear to the office staff and to the dentist. This is really the best thing, honestly. The sense of relief is enormous, believe it or not. Also they are not unfamiliar with fearful clients. They may then choose to see you more quickly, avoid showing you tools, offering you overly detailed explanations, shine the light in your eyes so you can’t see what’s coming at you etc. Own up and give them a chance to use all their tricks! I cannot stress enough how effective this one thing is.

Get her a amulet or good luck charm, something on a chain perhaps, that she can finger while in the waiting room or chair.

Have her wear her music player (ipod, etc) with music she likes, blasting it can keep the patient from hearing the drilling etc.

Good luck, give her a hug for me, I hate going to the dentist.

When I was young - probably 12ish, my dentist (maybe hygenist) slipped while scrapping tartar and carved a 6 inch long gash on the inside of my cheek. I had to go to emergency for stitches. I’ve been very tentative with dentists ever since.

I’m fine most of the time but I’m always tense because sometimes I just lose control. All I can do is lay in the chair and shake and cry. I know that worrying about those events just makes them more likely to occur but that doesn’t help much. Oddly the needle is the hardest part, even though it was the ER doctor that froze my mouth, not the dentist.

What does help is nitrous for everything. Early. I did avoid the dentist a couple of times for several years each time and I’m paying for that now. I’ve got gum surgery scheduled in June.

I have some mild fear of the dentist, which used to be a lot worse when I was a kid. I think a lot of it is the sense of vulnerability and helplessness: you’re lying back in the chair, open and exposed, while somebody pokes around in there with scary metal instruments that could at any moment cause you spasms of excruciating pain. What’s not to love?

I’m not sure exactly how or when I got over the bulk of my fear. Maybe after having my wisdom teeth out, I got the attitude that anything lesser was no big deal.

She has my sympathy. The thing about phobias is that, by definition, there’s an element of the irrationality to 'em. Otherwise they’re just rational fears. Sadly, knowing that a fear is irrational never made it go away for me, it just made me feel a bit ashamed of it. Some people have really quite astonishing success with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which is all about (as far as I could tell when it was done on me) trying to move the fear out of this Big Scary Unknown and back into the mundane, everyday real world. So the technique (amongst other things) asks the patient to imagine the worst thing that could happen, how likely that is to happen and how you’d be okay even then. So, to take your sister she might say “I am scared the dentist will hurt me”. The CBT approach would be to consider how likely that is, and what you could do if that happened. In that instance, agreeing with the dentist in advance a signal that you need to stop.

I’m having terrible problems with my own front tooth at the moment and you know what’s going to work for me? Anger! The dentist has kind of fucked things up a bit (at least according to the dentist who is covering for him whilst he is on holiday and who I had to see after things went very wrong after recent treatment) and I’m going to dwell on how mad I am about this rather than how scared I am going to be to be back in the chair again so soon next week. Obviously, when I discuss it with him, I’m going to be all polite and rational, like ‘how can we make this right bearing in mind I’m a total wuss when it comes to treatment blah blah blah’ but internally, when I catch myself getting terrified, I’m going to remember how livid I felt when the dentist I saw yesterday told me that the painful repair my dentist carried out has done way more harm than good and how my tooth is now crumbling away and needs a crown, stat, to put right.

On preview: And oh goodness yes, if she hasn’t already done so, have her speak up loudly about how about being phobic and can she please have whatever drugs, distractions and anything else they can think of to make the experience less stressy.

My fear factor is pretty high, mostly as a result of treatment by Navy dentists when I was growing up. There was one incident when I lost a tooth and they had to put in a spacer–sheer torture–and I had to go back several times because it wasn’t fitted right. Oh, the agony; I was scarred for life. Even now, more than four decades on, I get nervous for a week before I go in for my 6 month check up.

I feared the dentist so badly that I didn’t go at all between the ages of 19 or 20 until about a month ago (I’m 33). I dislike the idea of anything touching my mouth (not really a big fan of being touched period to be honest), I dislike the scraper thing to the point of curling my toes and shuddering just thinking about it, the smells, the whole thing really. And then when you’ve not been for a while you start to fear not just having a major procedure but the cost of those major procedures. I know plenty of people who need to have the cost of a new car installed into their mouths in a process more reminiscent of street repair than medical stuff.

But I didn’t want to have Shane McGowan teeth either, and my wife was on my case about it almost weekly. I finally gave in because I had some moderate pain in one of my teeth and the verdict was one normal cleaning, one periodontal cleaning, and one filling. That’s it. No root canals or bridges or crowns at all. I got off really, really lucky on that though. It wasn’t easy for me to do. For the first appointment I was so panicked that I nearly fled the waiting room twice. I cringed and sweated through my shirt during the whole thing, it was unpleasant and it was just a normal cleaning. For the second and third, which were the two periodontal cleanings, I just blocked it out and pretended that Captain Hook wasn’t trying to remove my teeth one at a time and went to my happy place. Those two were really, really hard and if I had to do them again my friend Mr. Xanax would come along for the ride. The filling was easy and done in like 10 minutes.

I’m really glad that I went, my teeth and gums look much nicer than they used to, I’ve even had my teeth whitened since then and they look great. My breath smells better, I chew more confidently, and smile bigger than I have in years. I still hate the dentist and fear having to do it again, but I’m a grown up and it’s just something I have to do.

I managed to reach 25 or 26 without being afraid of the dentist. I really didn’t mind going. I had always had good dentists, no one had trouble numbing me, and my jaw never gave me issues. I only had one dentist who used nitrous but I was afraid of it so I didn’t breath through my nose (I have since learned the beauty of the gas).

I have always had a lot of cavities. Part of it was due to a lack of flouride and part of it was due to my dislike of flossing. I also wasn’t brushing my very back, top molars properly, something I didn’t learn until I was around 23.
Anyway, in my early 20’s, I didn’t have dental insurance. I knew I had cavities that needed to be filled but I didn’t have the money to get them filled. One of them got bad enough to need a root canal. My dentist (who I loved) said he could do it.

Well, he couldn’t.
Not only was he completely incapable of numbing me completely, my root was shaped like an L and he couldn’t get it all. He stopped after an hour of some of the worst pain I had felt to that point in my life and told me that I needed to see an endodontist.

Well, that one appointment managed to leave me completely terrified of dentists and I didn’t go see an endodontist for 2 years.

When I saw the endodontist, she sprayed canned air on my tooth to see if the nerve had died. I could have TOLD her that it was still working it’s little nerve butt off in there but she wanted to see for herself. She then told me that the damage from the first doctor was too extensive for her to fix (why couldn’t she have told me that before the canned air?) She sent me to an oral surgeon to have the tooth pulled.

Now, I still didn’t have insurance at this point. I had already paid a shitload of money for this tooth and it was still in my mouth and still hurting me so I was getting pretty pissed off. I had also developed a fear of endodontists.

I went to the oral surgeon. He said pulling it would be an easy task and it would cost only a couple hundred more. But, I knew my recent history with numbing issues and I asked about sedation. He said that he did do it but it was $250 extra and took a lot more time. I said I wanted it. He said I didn’t and somehow managed to convince me that it was in my best interest to just get the regular shot.

Well, he was also completely incapable of numbing me. When he came back in to the room (I thought) to find out if I was numb, he instead started yanking on the tooth that apparently liked where it was. The bastard actually yelled at me when I cried and squirmed. Finally he gave up. I was crying and bloody and my tooth was about half out. But, it just wouldn’t release and my crying and squirming was pissing him off. So, he sent me home with an appointment for a sedated extraction in 2 days. I had to go to work that night, with my entire head feeling like it had been repeatedly smashed with the claw end of a very big hammer. I couldn’t eat. I could barely talk (not so good for a QA who needs to explain why things are looking bad). I was exhausted from not being able to sleep from the pain. I still went to work though because I was worried about losing my job (I was still a temp) for missing too much time and I knew I’d be missing time after the sedation.

The surgical extraction took about 10 minutes and was wonderful. I also developed a dry socket about 12 hours after the surgery, which I didn’t even think was possible. The dentist told me to take some Motrin and (basically) to fuck off. I finally convinced his nurse to prescribe something stronger and an antibiotic. I ended up having a painkiller induced panic attack at work that night and had to be sent home. So even after trying to work through all this, I still ended up being fired.

Anyway, it took 2 weeks for the agonizing dry socket pain to go away, I found out that I am hypersensitive to Hydros, I found out I am allergic to erythromycin, I got fired, and it took 6 months before the extraction hole to close enough for me to be able to chew on that side of my mouth again.
By the time all was done, I had spent over $1500 for what ended up being an extraction and it took over 2 years to be done. I spent a whole lot of time in dentist induced agony. I ended up completely petrified of even hygienists, and they had never even hurt me before.

Because he wants to mess about with power tools INSIDE MY HEAD. This is, IMO, a perfectly rational fear.

For anyone who fears the dentist, thisis a good website. Lots of support and information there, although it is UK-based. (Lots of Americans there, too, though.)

I don’t mind going to the dentist. It’s having to pay when I leave that inflicts the pain. I can bare any amount of pain as long as I know it is temporary. so just go for it and get out. That’s my view and that extends to internal surgery and so forth too.

I came in to say that it is possible to recover from the trauma of a horrific dental experience.

I had a root canal done several years ago that was the worst experience of my life. The numbing was inadequate (maybe non existent) and the procedure required repeated filing of the canal. With each upstroke of the file, the exposed nerve was touched. It felt like someone was jabbing my brain with an ice pick. And it went on and on and on (the dentist kept saying, ‘almost done’).

Anyway, about a year ago I needed a routine filling. The dentist (same guy, in fact) asked if I wanted to try doing it without any numbing whatsoever. I said OK (I don’t know why I said OK, but I did). There was some pain, but when it was over, I was glad I didn’t have the numb lips. While the procedure was underway, I kept pretending I was Jack Bauer and was being tortured by the bad guys; hey, it worked. :smiley:

Phobias aren’t rational, by definition. It’s entirely possible for someone to have a phobia and not remember an event that triggered it. I have a phobia of needles, and I don’t remember any traumatic event that made it start. I was OK with needles when I was a kid, then developed a phobia later on.

People with phobias often know that their fear is totally irrational. It doesn’t really help, to know that. It’s not a matter of just explaining to her that whatever terrible thing she’s afraid of isn’t going to happen, or is very unlikely, and then she won’t be afraid. Rationally, I know that getting a shot is not going to do anything bad to me. That doesn’t do much to the emotional reaction I get when faced with the prospect.

MMM is right. It is definitely possible to overcome the fear. I have been working on it for 3 months now. I dealt with the fear of dentists, pain, endodontists, and root canals (those last 2 were just yesterday).
All it took for me was one good experience for something that had previously been a bad one.

Getting myself in the chair was a bitch and a half though.

This was exactly the same thought I had on the OP’s question. :eek:

Ever play ToeJam&Earl? That’s what I think of when I think ‘dentist.’