Friday, July 14, 2017

Death to Dental Phobia

Do you know anyone who loves going to the dentist? I don’t, and I bet if you did a poll most people would not list going to the dentist among their favorite things to do. However, we all know that it is an important thing that must be done.

I cannot ever remember a time when I didn’t hate going to the dentist, but I can remember the exact moment when my dental phobia began. It happened when I was around six years old. I went to the dentist and ended up having one of my baby teeth pulled. My mom was not allowed to be in the room with me, they had to hold me down, and through my screams they came at me with pliers that looked like they came straight out of some mechanic’s toolbox. Against my will and with me fighting tooth and nail (see what I did there) they pulled my tooth. I was petrified, and that is where things started going south for me in the dental department. Now along with the emotional baggage associated with that awful mess, add on the fact that I have extremely sensitive teeth and gums, and I am apparently genetically predisposed to getting cavities (thanks mom and dad), and you have a recipe for disaster.

I have hopped around from dentist to dentist for a long time, and as time has gone on my dental phobia has only gotten worse. I was always searching for that elusive dentist who would treat me with respect while also treating me like the biggest baby and understanding my needs without making me feel silly or downplaying my fears when it comes to dental care. I've tried older dentists, women dentists, younger dentists, and I'd even try a dentist in monkey suit if I thought that would help. But y’all, I think I finally found the dentist for me!

After avoiding the dentist for 3 years (even though I was paying $45 a month for dental insurance...insert eye roll here) I finally mustered up the courage to put on my big girl panties and go in for a cleaning. However, since I hadn’t been in so long I had to do an initial consultation, and even though I knew the dentist wouldn’t do anything but look at my teeth my stomach was in knots on the way to the office. My mind was racing: “I know my teeth need work. This is going to cost a fortune. This is going to hurt. This is going to be embarrassing when they see how my teeth look. They might think I’m a nasty person.  What if my breath is funky even though I brushed my teeth? What if my armpits get all sweaty, and it shows through my shirt? They are going to think I’m a crazy person when I cry. Why didn’t I wear the waterproof mascara? Why do I have to have such crappy teeth? Maybe I should just go back home….” Despite my thoughts I pressed on.

When I finally got to meet the dentist I was amazed at how kind he was. I warned him that I would probably cry, and I told him to try not to take it personally. He joked around with me a little and truly spent some time getting to know me and sharing a little about himself before he got down to business. By the time he got to the part where he looked at my teeth I felt totally at ease. It was almost like an old friend was checking for some food stuck in my teeth. I didn’t even cry! This was a MAJOR milestone for me! I usually start crying and having trouble breathing the minute the dental chair lays back.  

Unfortunately, I can’t say I didn’t cry at all, because I did cry when he was done looking at my teeth. When he sat me up in the chair and began explaining what he thought needed to be done first, and he mentioned the words “possible root canal” I lost it. I always said I’d never get a root canal, but that I’d opt for extraction instead. He talked me out of that, and I’m thankful. Again he was able to set my mind at ease.

You might be wondering what exactly he did that made such an impression on me that I felt compelled to write a blog post about it. Well here it is:
  • He treated me like a real person rather than just some patient who was to be shuffled in and out. He spent time talking to me, and we really didn’t even talk that much about why I’m scared to death of the dentist, but by the end of our conversation I felt like he understood.
  • He complimented my teeth. Now he could’ve just been lying, but he said something to the effect of, “Your teeth are beautiful. You need to stop saying they are terrible.” That was huge. I feel like my teeth are awful, so that really made me feel less embarrassed.
  • He used humor, and it was obvious that he was passionate about his job and doing a good job. He even took a picture with me! Yes...I had to document this moment! 
I can't believe I did it!!!
  • He gave me choices. When we were discussing the treatment plan he explained that his goal was to give me the best care possible within the parameters that made me comfortable. That was novel. I’ve always felt very pressured to get this or that done immediately when I go to the dentist. He understood that some people are okay with having teeth that need work and not getting the work done until the tooth starts hurting. He explained that approach wasn’t the one he would choose for his patients, but he would support me and provide the best care for me if that’s what I chose. No dentist has ever told me that. NEVER. Not a single one.
  • He had evidence to back up his claims that my teeth need work. The dental assistant took pictures of my teeth, and I was able to clearly see exactly what they were talking about when they said my old filling was cracked or my tooth was chipped. This was also huge for me, because I have trust issues with the dentist. In any other healthcare setting the patient tells the doctor what’s wrong and the doctor finds the solution to the problem. But often at the dentist you go in thinking all is well and suddenly you need to fork out $1200 for a crown. I have issue with that. If my tooth was not even hurting why would I want to spend that much money on it? How would I even know it really had a problem? However, on this day I was able to see for myself.
  • He was truly concerned about me. How do I know that? Well, how many dentists do you know that PERSONALLY call their patients at 6:30 in the evening? Y’all he called me to make sure I was doing okay and to tell me he was proud of me for overcoming my fear and coming to the dentist. Wow!!! How cool is that? I can’t promise you that you’ll get a personal phone call if you go visit him, but I know you’ll leave his chair knowing that he cares about you.
So, I am happy, as crazy as that sounds, to say that I have scheduled phase one of my dental treatment. I will be getting nitrous and conscious sedation, so I am not even stressing out about getting the work done.

If you are scared to go to the dentist I strongly encourage you to give Dr. Whitworth at Winterville Dental a chance. So far, I give him two thumbs waaaaaay up! I’ll get back to you in October after phase one is complete, and let you know how it all went.

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