I never used to have a fear of the dentist. Growing up as a child who struggled with sensory issues and hated brushing my teeth, combined with struggles with food and not eating very healthy, I often had cavities and needed trips to the dentist to fix them. So trips to the dentist were just common for me, and I got used to it.
By the time I was a teenager and needed braces, those trips only got more frequent. Did I enjoy the dentist? No, not really. But I never had any anxieties about it until five years ago.
It started with pain in my jaw and neck. I went to multiple doctors, had a ton of different scans, tried the chiropractor and physical therapy, but nothing was helping.
After a few months and worsening pain, I realized that one of my bottom back molars was bothering me when I ate, so I brought it up at my next dentist appointment. They did the test where they use something cold and put it on your gums to check the nerves. Sure enough, I couldn’t feel anything.
The problem was an old silver filling that started to decay and they said bacteria probably got trapped in there when they did the filling when I was a kid causing all the trouble now as an adult.
At first, they thought they could just replace the old silver filling, and it would fix the problem. I was sent to a dentist over an hour away because they had the soonest availability. We replaced the filling and I thought I would finally be pain-free.
But the pain only got worse from there. My regular dentist had me come in and meet with an endodontist, and he did what he called a partial root canal and then had me come back for another.
I told them I wasn’t sure about a root canal and just wanted the pain to stop and asked if we could just pull the tooth. They wouldn’t let me and insisted I do the root canal. Feeling like I had no choice, I went through with their suggested treatment plan.
At this point, my tooth was severely infected and the pain was getting worse by the day. After the root canal, the pain continued getting worse. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t sleep. It was horrible.
Their suggestion? Another root canal. So we tried again, and sure enough, that one failed as well. Finally, they let me have this tooth extracted, and I had to have it surgically removed. After six months of torture, it was finally over.
Ever since then, I’ve had terrible anxiety every time I go to the dentist. I worry the same thing is going to happen again. As an adult, I take such good care of my teeth and physical health overall, but the damage from my childhood is already done.
So you can imagine my complete terror when I was recently informed by my new dentist that my front top tooth has a big filling that is starting to decay and even though I’m having no pain, I’ll likely need a root canal because it is so close to the root of the tooth.
My anxiety went crazy thinking of going through that pain again and most importantly the fear of something going wrong and ending up losing my front tooth. There was just no good solution.
Now, if I didn’t have the past traumatic experience that created this new fear of dental problems and work, I probably wouldn’t think much of this at all. I just have to trust in my dentist to know what he is doing and to fix this problem without me losing my tooth. Easier said than done.
But I think it’s important that people understand how traumatic experiences and mental health can cause these types of fears, that people typically associate with children, to happen to adults too.
Logically, I know this is a completely different situation with a different tooth, different dentist, and different symptoms. (As in no symptoms yet because the decay hasn’t reached the root and they’re hoping to get ahead of the problem.) But anxiety and trauma don’t listen to that kind of reason.
And I guess I just want anyone else who struggles with this to know they aren’t alone. Whether it’s fear of dentists, doctors, eye doctors, or anything really, it can happen to any of us at any age. I don’t have a solution or advice to offer at this time, but maybe just knowing this is more common than people might think is enough to make a small difference. And that’s something.