health

I Was Too Terrified To Go To The Dentist For 8 Years. Here’s What Happened When I Finally Went

by Jess Catcher
Jess grew up in Oklahoma before moving to New York to become a writer. She has a cat named Agnes.

Having a fear of the dentist is one of the most common phobias, and it keeps so many folks from having healthy teeth.

My own anxieties kept me away from the dentist’s chair for eight long years. Obviously, that’s far too long to go without a checkup. I was embarrassed to admit it before writing this up, but now I’m just glad I finally found the strength to actually do something about it.

It was already obvious to me that my gums were in pretty bad shape before I made my appointment. They would bleed literally every time I brushed my teeth.

As the years went by, though, it became easier and easier to simply embrace my fear of the dentist and avoid acknowledging any issue whatsoever. I felt stupid paying for dental insurance, but I just stayed in denial and told myself I’d make use of it… someday.

On top of the pain, I was sure my dentist would tell me I needed tons of work — maybe even a root canal — to get my teeth back into shape.

Take a look below to see how bad my teeth had really gotten.

And be sure to SHARE my experience on Facebook to help any of your friends who suffer the same fear of the dentist!

How Often Should You Go To The Dentist?

<u>How Often Should You Go To The Dentist?</u>
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

Most of us have probably heard the “every six months” rule from our dentist over the years. Official word from the American Dental Association says patients should abide by regular visits tailored by their dentist for their specific need.

That means some folks can go a full year between cleanings. Others might need to stop by even more than the traditional biannual recommendation.

After looking at my gums, my hygienist was quick to recommend the regular six-month option.

What Is Dental Phobia?

on the way to the dentist
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

As someone who’s already prone to anxiety, my fear started developing as a child, with my old dentist. He was so smarmy and judgmental at every single checkup — all while inflicting pain on my gums with his pointy instruments of torture. I left every visit feeling sore and bullied.

Another factor is my fear of being put under anesthesia. I wasn’t even knocked out when I got my wisdom teeth removed. Getting the first pair out felt like a butcher had hacked at my mouth. I saw shards of my teeth piled up on the paper bib on my chest. The second set was a much less traumatic experience, but it still ended up being the last time I set foot in a dentist’s office.

When I became an adult, responsible for my own dental health, I let things slip… a lot.

How I Coped With My Dental Anxiety

shaking on the way to the dentist
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

Honestly, forcing myself to write about this experience was the only thing that could finally make me set up an appointment after so many years.

I was also happy that my roommate — who hates the ordeal just as much as I do — found a dentist in our area. She described the office as very kind. Funnily enough, she ended up having a cleaning scheduled there as well, for later on that same day.

Even though I trusted her judgment, I was still really nervous about how things would go when I actually got in the chair. I didn’t expect to be so shaky, but my anxiety started bubbling up even before I hopped in the cab for my appointment.

1. Finding A Gentle Dentist

gentle dentist
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

On top of my roommate’s glowing review, it was reassuring to see the dentist’s office actually advertised itself as “gentle.”

A coworker also told me about his own fear of the dentist and how he can only get checkups from a specific dentist who’s known for supplying patients with whatever they need to feel comfortable throughout the appointment. He admitted that he has to be numbed up with both local and general anesthetic to get through his cleanings.

I was so scarred by my childhood experiences that I was baffled to learn there were actually dentists out there who went out of their way to make their patients comfortable.

2. Being Upfront About Fears

dentist forms
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

While making my appointment over the phone, I made sure to mention my anxieties and how long they kept me from seeing a dentist. The woman on the other end of the line was very sweet about it while taking my insurance information. There was not a single hint of judgment when I told her exactly how long I’d been neglecting my poor teeth.

She was equally calming when I arrived for my appointment, telling me to take a seat and relax as I filled out the necessary paperwork.

My penmanship was a bit wobbly as I went through the forms. Luckily, they had a section where I could again let them know just how much I was dreading the process.

3. Concentrating On Breathing

shaking in dentist chair
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

The paper bib felt like it was made of iron when the hygienist clasped it over my chest. Then he topped it off with the even bulkier X-ray protection.

But he was also cracking jokes the whole time — and some of them were actually pretty funny! It really was a nice distraction while awkwardly biting down on the device for him to snap the photos of my teeth.

He was also very informative when it came to letting me know what might be causing my gums to be in such rough shape.

After I told him I have allergies and issues with my sinuses on a regular basis, he explained how that might cause me to sleep with my mouth slightly open. This dries out the gums, which then react by expanding the blood vessels — similar to how dry eyes get red and blotchy — and become swollen.

4. Knowing There Will Be Blood

scary dentist tools
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

I admitted that, while I wasn’t in any pain on a regular basis, my gums did tend to bleed every time I brushed my teeth. I also explained how I’d stopped flossing after one incident led to the back of my tooth chipping on the string.

Then, as he started to scrape away at the plaque around my gums, he actually said, “Yeah, that’s a lot of blood.” I got to see exactly what he meant when my squirming and flinching let him know I needed a break and I took the opportunity to rinse out my mouth.

It was seriously like a scene from The Shining when I spat the very red water into the tiny sink by my chair. Even though I was used to seeing similar results while brushing every day, the excessive amount was incredibly jarring.

5. Discovering Teeth Can Hide Icky Surprises

calcified bacteria at dentist
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

Apparently, what I thought was my tooth chipping on the floss was actually one of these icky bits of calcified bacteria getting dislodged.

The hygienist explained how these develop over time when the natural minerals in our saliva coat the bacteria from food particles and cause them to solidify. They attach between the teeth and gums, creating distance between the two that can eventually lead to losing your teeth as you age.

It was upsetting to hear just how many of those he found lurking between my teeth, but I’m glad to know my front teeth weren’t actually decaying as badly as I thought.

I was also proud of myself for getting through the ordeal without any medication to ease my nerves. I know there’s nothing wrong with needing extra help to make the process easier, but the idea of anesthesia really only made my anxiety flare worse. So I’m thrilled I could actually power through.

6. Learning Cavities Can Be Super-Sneaky

cavity at dentist
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

Like I said, I’ve never had any lingering pain in my teeth while going about my daily life. My lower front teeth were the ones I thought I had chipped, so I was surprised it was my upper front teeth that X-rays revealed were housing a cavity.

This was also when the dentist busted out his scary photos of periodontal disease, or gum disease, which I was unfortunately in danger of developing. The frightening diagrams have definitely inspired me to really start flossing on a daily basis.

My dentist made sure to keep the mood light by making jokes while explaining how to keep my teeth and gums from getting any worse.

7. Realizing Fluoride Is Your Friend

dentist results
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

Before discussing the X-rays with the dentist, the hygienist measured the distance between my gums and teeth and explained how 2 to 3 millimeters would be normal for someone my age.

However, I had quite a few ‘fours,’ ‘fives,’ and even a couple of ‘sixes’ that were particularly painful to discover as he made his way around every tooth. Despite the grim news, he was also confident my gums could bounce back in no time with better care and more frequent cleanings.

The fact that the dentist found only three cavities while prodding my teeth was actually a relief — I was expecting him to find something in the double digits.

He recommended switching from regular mouthwash to a fluoride rinse.

How I Felt When It Was Over

after dentist selfie
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

I was still shaking as I left the office, after making an appointment to get my cavities filled in the next few weeks. My gums were also really sore, but I was actually feeling more relieved than anything. I went into the appointment expecting the dentist to say I needed serious work done — maybe even a root canal, heaven forbid.

Three cavities obviously isn’t ideal, but I appreciated the fact that they took the time to actually give me the information I needed to get better. They lived up to their “gentle” claim and seemed to really care about my health, rather than lecturing me like dentists I’ve had in the past.

Finding the right dentist office really seems to be the key to getting over this potentially dangerous fear. I’m so happy I was able to find one in my neck of the woods!

The appointment was painful, both physically and emotionally, but both the dentist and hygienist assured me that the next time wouldn’t be nearly as bad.

Do you know someone who’s afraid to go to the dentist?

Be sure to SHARE my experience on Facebook to help others overcome their fear and keep their teeth healthy!