Dental phobia: My story

Today,  I went in search of online anxiety support groups. Skimming Psych Central, I noticed one that hit home for me: Dental Phobia Support.

I always knew I had dental phobia, but it never occurred to me to find a support group for that, because for adults, fear of the dentist and doctor is heavily stigmatized. We expect children to be scared or nervous experiencing the dentist for the first time, but society rarely expects adults to fear the dentist.

I registered for the forum and thought about how far back my fear started. I thought back to my first filling. My parents brought me to their dentist, Dr. Arbuckle, to get my cavity filled. I was 7-10-ish, and I was nervous because ahead of time, my mom and step dad educated me on the procedure.

They told me about the needle and the drill. They told me the needle was necessary so I wouldn’t feel the drill. But my anxiety built up from there throughout the entire appointment. I remember being called in from the waiting room; My grandma and mom came in with me. I sat in the chair. Dr. Arbuckle (a name I will always dread in the sphere of dentistry) snapped on his rubber gloves and prepared the needle.

Panic. Panic. Panic. I started to shake uncontrollably and cry before he even got it in my mouth. When he got close enough to my mouth, I pulled away.

Seeing how scared I was, the good dentist suggested I watch him administer novocaine to the mouth of another patient waiting in another exam room. He wanted to show me how painless it was.

So I watched. Yes, I watched and I died standing up. Or that’s what my mother and grandmother said. They described my face as turning a shade of ghostly white and my lips a shade of ice blue. I remember feeling cold, standing in that spot watching the dentist stick the needle into the patient’s gums.

Mad Scientist Arbuckle failed to notice how squeamish I was. It was obvious from the start that he had little to now training with children.  Either way, I think I died standing up. But I came back to life. Barely. I suddenly needed to use the bathroom.

Against the protests of the adults, I ran to the bathroom and locked  the door behind me. How long could I pull off this farce until the adults decided to take me home without incident?

The adults coaxed me out of the bathroom and into The Chair of Death again.

Another failed attempt at administering the injection led me to the bathroom once again.

When they coaxed me out more forcefully the second time, Step Monster Alan was in the Mad Scientist’s room waiting for me at The Chair. Mad Dentist Arbuckle made threats about wrapping me in a straight jacket while Alan held me down,  his arm pressed against my chest so I couldn’t breath.

I begged Step Monster Alan to stop. Like a desperate aniimall, I saw only one other option as the Mad Dentist Arbuckle lowered the injection to my mouth.

I bit his rubbery gloved fingers hard, making sure it hurt.

He pulled his hand back with a stream of curses that remain a blur in my memory.  He didn’t want to work on me anymore. My parents could take me to a children’s dentist, because he didn’t want anything more to do with me.

A short time after that, my mom and step dad told me Mad Scientist Arbuckle quit. I assume that was true, because I never saw him in that office when I accompanied the parental units to their dental appointments.

That was just the beginning of my dental phobia. I use not having dental insurance as an excuse to not go to the dentist. I know that there are student dentists in my city that work on low-income patients for free, but my biggest fear about that is they are students. What if they can’t handle an extremely anxious, out of control patient?

The major problem for me now is the pain. I fear the pain the dentist brings me, and my heart races at the sound of a dental drill and the smell of a dental office.

Cleanings are extremely painful on my teeth because dentists rinse with cold water.

When I was in high school, my mom figured it was time for me to start seeing her dentist. I had thought nothing of this transition at the time, because I was no longer a child. It made perfect sense to me.  But my phobia only worsened my visits to this new dentist.

My worse memory at this new dentist is of this gruff, stern Russian hygienist spraying my teeth with painfully cold water. I was crying and whimpering, and she told me she couldn’t work on me if I kept doing that. I stopped for a minute, but the water hit my two front teeth with such force, that my body jerked and sprayed her in the face with water.

Boy, was she pissed. I apologized profusely and explained that my teeth are very sensitive. She told me it wouldn’t hurt that much if I flossed more.  What made my phobia worse (if it could get worse) is that, despite having a novocaine injection, drills still hurt my top teeth when I get fillings. The dentist’s lack of bedside manner  didn’t make it any easier on me. His response was, “It’s all in your head,” or “It’s just the sound of the drill that scares you.”

Well, at that stage in my life, I think I could tell the difference between physical pain and being afraid of the sound the drill makes.

I don’t know how to overcome this fear, and I am considering asking my doctor to prescribe me a Xanax for the  time I get up the courage to see a student dentist for a cleaning.  I really want my teeth to be healthy, but this desire for healthy teeth isn’t  helping me to overcome my fear.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Would anyone like to share their experiences? I invite you all to share your stories and recommendations in the comments.