Q: I have a serious fear of the dentist. I am too ashamed to have anyone look inside my mouth. About five years ago, a couple of my teeth broke off. I know this can cause health problems, but I still cannot seem to force myself to go to the dentist. Is it normal to feel like I do? Can I meet with the dentist and discuss my fears before deciding what to do? Please help.A: This is a problem that many patients of mine have. Most of us are afraid of a dentist either because of childhood fears or poor experiences in a dental office. Those fears stay with us forever.
— Leonard, Georgia
I do believe that today's dentists, as well as their staffs, are much more patient-oriented and try to provide good bedside manner, sympathy and empathy, and a comfortable environment for their patients. It is very reasonable to call up a dentist to see whether he or she would meet with you just to talk and see what can be done. That first appointment would be critical (obviously if a dentist does not want to meet with you, then he or she would not be the right dentist for you anyhow). I think that the patient's confidence in the dentist, the patient-doctor relationship, and the dentist's ability to reduce a patient's anxieties are all critical to any treatment. Please do not let your dental health go because of your fears. Face them as we all must. It is important to remind yourself that everyone has fears of the dentist and those who have had bad childhood experiences often fear dental visits strongly. My philosophy in life is to understand your fears and accept them: Find someone who works for and with you. Even if you have to interview ten or 20 different dentists, look until you find someone who is compassionate and willing to help you through your fears.
Another option you may want to look into is the convenience of oral sedatives or oral anti-anxiety medications that may help you relax mentally and physically while undergoing treatment. Nitrous oxide gas can be used in the office. IV sedation can also be used when any kind of major dental work is anticipated. I think the key is for you to meet someone whom you trust, who cares about you, and who is backed up by a whole staff that will work to help reduce your anxiety about the visit.
Learn more in the Everyday Health Dental Health Center.