I cannot pinpoint exactly when it began, but I have had a fear of dentists ever since I was a child, getting routine cleanings at the local dentist’s office back home in Pennsylvania. I can trace the very beginnings of my fear back to that particular dentist, an older man, who informed my mother that a baby tooth needed to be removed to allow the adult tooth to come in properly. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember that he hurt me and so my severe dental phobia began.
Let me attempt to explain what happens to me. Just even thinking about going to the dental office causes a panic attack. My heart starts to race, I can feel the fear rising in my throat and taking hold of me. I try slow breathing, all while I am wringing my hands, fighting back tears, twisting the bottom of my shirt around my fingers until the blood supply is almost non-existent. When I have to take my children in for a simple, routine cleaning, the same thing happens. I sit in the corner of the room, twisting my shirt, tears streaming down my face as I watch the technicians like a hawk to make sure they don’t hurt my babies.
The only positive dental experience I have had is one that involved Dr. Metzger. He is a dentist whose kind, gentle way and understanding of my phobia and willingness to help me through the procedure and sedate me gave me the courage to have the work done that was necessary.
I saw him over 7 years ago, with insurance that covered the multiple extractions, sedation, and oral surgery that I needed at the time. He put me to sleep, and when I woke my dental pain was gone, along with about six teeth, but the problem was solved, and he was extremely understanding and supportive. He is the only dentist that has provided me with a positive experience in my 47 years.
I have had this severe dental phobia as long as I can remember. I went a year (possibly two) ago to the VCU Dental School to have an extraction done because I was in excruciating pain. They would not give me sedation, all that they would offer was laughing gas and a numbing medication before giving me the shot in my gums. Neither helped. I felt the first shot all the way through to the eighth shot until I was finally numb. I screamed every time they gave me a shot. They had the audacity to tell me to be quiet and stop screaming, that I was acting like a child. They had no concern for my pain, my fear, my anxiety and I refuse to ever go back there again unless I am completely sedated.
Just sitting here, writing this, reliving that experience, has tears streaming down my face.
My appointment was scheduled today for 10AM to have three of my remaining thirteen teeth removed at the local dental office I take my children to. Yesterday evening, they informed me that they could not give me a prescription for an anti-anxiety tablet to take prior to the procedure. I would need to get the anti-anxiety medication from my primary care physician. Since my primary care physician left the practice three years ago, I have not been to see a doctor. So there I was, facing another dental appointment with just numbing medication and laughing gas. Last night, with a few glasses of wine, I figured I would give it another shot. I would try to have the procedure done. I re-read the article that I wrote in September, gave myself a pep talk, I could DO this!
I didn’t sleep all night.
I dozed off around 7:30AM and woke up at 9AM. When I looked at the clock, realized that my appointment was just an hour away, the panic and anxiety hit so hard that I felt stunned. I was literally incapable of moving off the couch. The fear took hold, the shirt I was wearing was almost ripped in half, my fingers sore from the twisting and wringing.
I want this done. I want this over. I want the last thirteen teeth removed, all at once, under sedation. I want to receive a set of temporary dentures. I want to return once my gums have completely healed to be fitted with my permanent dentures. Unfortunately, the lack of dental insurance and the lack of a full-time steady income that can be counted on to pay for the procedure, leaves me where I am today. Waiting for the next painful toothache, and hoping that an antibiotic and a few days of pain medication will make it go away for several months or longer so I don’t have to deal with it.
There are places where I could have the work done that I need. Places that will put me to sleep, remove the last several teeth, and get me fitted for dentures. I just need to be able to pay the $2500 to $5000 that it will cost ahead of time before I can start living my life again. That is something that just is not possible now or in the near future.
This is my life. This is where a severe dental phobia has left me. Unable to smile, unable to take a family portrait with my children because I don’t want my toothless smile forever recorded. Why you won’t see any photos of me with a ‘real’ smile. Unable to return to work in any place where I would need to deal with the public – as qualified as I may be – because, as one prospective employer told me, “Nobody wants to deal with someone who doesn’t have all of their teeth and cannot smile and speak properly.“
If you know someone who has a severe dental phobia – please do not discount their fears, their anxiety. It is a very real, debilitating problem. What they need from you is concern, care, and compassion until they can find their way through the darkness to the resolution that will work best for them and their issues.