The Day I Conquered my Dentist Anxiety

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Our family had a dentist recommended to us “because he went to such-and-such-a-church”.  This was the last time I ever chose a professional based on their church attendance.

Dr H. was a sweet older man whose hands were white and cracked from antimicrobial soap– I can still smell them when I recall the horrifying memories in his office.  He had a wall-sized picture of a green field of flowers, so that patients could enjoy the view (I presume) while smoke from the drill detonating their enamel filled the air .

I went to Dr H. for many cavities (I have a LONG history of cavities due to poor genes and passion for candy).  But one fine day I hit my breaking point with a dental visit that would cripple me with dentist anxiety for almost two decades.

During this final visit to see Dr H, he was working on a particularly deep cavity in my mouth and began praying anxiously as he drilled with trembling hands.

“Jesus, help us!!” he murmured over and over. All I could pray was, “Get this drill out of my mouth!!”

Needless to say, by the time I crawled out of that operating chair I was a nervous wreck and never went back. (To every dentist out there, if you’re not feeling confidant, FAKE IT!)

My whole family switched to a new dentist immediately.  Her office was newer and airyer.  She was easy-breezy confidant and I somehow knew that even though i was sweating and my heart was racing, Dr M.L. had it all together and I would be just fine if I could just keep from passing out.

When I moved to India I swore, “I will NEVER go to a dentist in India.” I feared that somehow it would be even worse than crazy Dr. H. So for a solid year I had pain in my teeth and stopped drinking cold drinks and stopped eating candy (on that side of my mouth, of course!).  But apparently my chai consumption was still causing my teeth to rapidly decay.  Whoops.

So in January I was in the US and made an appointment with Dr M.L.  I dreaded it and knew there would be fillings.  To my dismay she calmly told me (as if it wasn’t that mortifying), that there were six cavities, and that one was pretty deep.  She set me up for two follow up appointments.

I returned (petrified) and guess what?  Dr M.L. asked me what would make me feel most comfortable.  I had prepared ahead.  I took a benadryl to keep me relaxed (or at least sleepy). I brought out my lavender essential oil and doused my wrists and ears. Then Dr. M.L. gave me a heated pillow behind my neck, and she gave me noise-canceling headphones and told me to plug in my relaxing playlist (that she had told me ahead of time to prepare!).

Dr M.L. acted like all of my anxiety-related quirks were completely normal. Apparently I’m not the only one terrified of the sitting in a small room while three people force metal instruments in your mouth.

So I sat back with sunglasses on, Jack Johnson singing in my ear, the smell of lavender, and the heat of a pillow on my neck.  And then I used a skill that I developed extensively as a child in long church services. Daydreaming. 🙂

We may not have much money, but thanks to a credit card we have Holiday Inn points.  A lot of them. So I spent two hours in Dr M.L.’s office visiting all of the Holiday Inn resorts in the world (I’ve never even been to them but I imagined how lovely the resort in Goa, in Pukhet, and Sanibel must be).

And suddenly, we were done! When it was time to return a few days later, I couldn’t wait for a little uninterrupted daydream time!! I left the US with six new fillings (and the start of a crown– turns out everything was much worse once she began drilling, but Dr M.L never let on).  And I realized, I had conquered my dental anxiety!  I may have a slightly higher heart rate on dental days, but I can face it and even not mind.

So a few weeks after coming back to India, my tooth was aching and I knew I needed follow up.  My dread of the Indian dentist was going to have to be faced.

So I got a referral to a lady, Dr Meenakshi. On the phone she spoke with perfect english and sounded patient and sweet. We arrived at the site of her office and had to hunt through what looked like an abandoned, sketchy strip mall, to find her office. Up a rickety flight of dirt-and-construction covered stairs and down a hallways with rubble and workers. It felt like we were heading in for a drug deal.

We found a window with Dr Meenakshi’s sign. There was construction going on in her operating room and everyone (including the lady dentist) was wearing goggles and construction shoes.

And I thought, this is going to be another nightmare.

But Dr Meenakshi had me come sit down and pushed the construction guys aside. She gently looked at my teeth, did some filing, and fixed my “bite”. All of the sudden the pain was gone, the appointment was over (after costing us $5, I’m not kidding). And I hadn’t had a panic attack!

Suddenly I found myself asking this indian dentist in the construction zone if she would schedule me for a crown and a cleaning. I was asking to come back??

So the moral of my story is this: there are good dentists and bad dentists! Pick a good one and learn the ways that can keep you calm and give you a positive experience. Anxiety isn’t as bad when you can accept that it happens and stop freaking out that you’re freaking out.

Then you can move forward and make your worst fear a positive experience.

 


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