I see patients on a daily basis who struggle with dental anxiety and phobias related to dentistry. Most relate a story about a bad experience they had earlier in life and how it has colored how they see and react to dentistry ever since. For some people this anxiety is minor and can be easily overcome with a bit of work. For some people this anxiety is debilitating in a dental sense. Simply getting in the door of a dental office is a major feat and not running out during a procedure is even more difficult. I had one of these patients yesterday who went from that debilitating level of anxiety to a place where she was able to tolerate treatment (4 fillings in one visit!) without major sedation. Here is her story.
We’ll call her Molly. Molly saw a dentist when she was young who wasn’t patient or kind. When she had dental work that needed to be done he used a papoose board to restrain her and complete the work without any sort of sedation. She was traumatized and hadn’t visited a dentist since.
Molly is now in her early twenties and has a mouth full of cavities (22 to be exact). When I first saw her for a consultation, she was shaking and could barely let me look at her teeth. She told me she wasn’t sure how we were going to get all this work done. I proposed we use a light sedative before the procedure and laughing gas and we would help her through the process.
She came back for her appointment to get the cavities taken care of (big accomplishment for her!) having taken a very light sedative to help with the anxiety. We started her on laughing gas and let her get comfortable but she really struggled. There was a lot of crying and shaking before we did anything. We numbed her teeth and then started on the cavities. At each step, I explained what we would be doing, what she would be feeling, and that if she needed a break we could do that. At first it was really difficult! She even told me at one point, “I really want to get these done but you may just have to let me cry through the entire appointment”. Slowly, as we went along she got more and more comfortable. She asked us questions about how we were doing things and if she was doing well. We assured her that she was doing great! By the end of the appointment she was totally OK with the sound and sensation of the drill and was relaxed! This was a huge success.
I share this story because I want to give people with dental anxiety hope! Molly has some of the worst dental anxiety that I’ve seen in my career. To make it through an appointment and be relaxed is a huge win. Upcoming appointments will be easier because we’ve found what works for her and allowed her to face some of her fears. Find a good dentist who will be patient with you. Let them slowly guide you through the process and there is a good chance you can be a dental anxiety success story too.