• KM Dailey

1 Dentistry (part 1)

I made a list of 100 things I should do that scare me. In 2020, I plan to complete all 100.

I fall into a (small?) subcategory of people who contemplate suicide if they have a dentist appointment coming up. I border on panic attacks if I have to even drive by the building where my childhood dentist used to be, and as a teen, I would fail to eat or sleep for days before an appointment.

Fortunately, I’m an adult, so if my contemplation passes the idle phase, I can cancel. Unfortunately, I still eventually have to reschedule. Apparently you can’t just never go to the dentist.

Dentists and hygienists always seem to be startled when I relate my degree of anxiety. I was surprised they hadn’t encountered more people with such phobias until the sampling bias occurred to me. People who are more afraid of the dentist than I am would just never make an appointment in the first place.

In my life, I’ve had 13 fillings, 8 teeth pulled, 3 years of braces, and an expander (which was tightened once a day). If I was going to get used to this by exposure, I would have already, so I don’t expect “facing this fear” to make a difference in how much I fear it. That’s one of the things that makes it so hard.

It’s been a little over a year since I last went. I took a heavy anti-anxiety medication before going in, but it did absolutely nothing except make me fall dead asleep for three hours when I got home.

Other obstacles: I’ve got some crowding in my front lower teeth that’s making it really hard to clean well, which means the last cleaning I had was the most painful of my life. It hurt for days and I still cringe when I think about it. I’m aware that waiting longer means it will be worse when I ultimately go—both in terms of greater pain and higher risk that I’ll need fillings or other procedures—but that doesn’t help me pick up the phone.

Since this is such a massive fear for me, I’m treating it as two separate fears: making the appointment, and actually going. Today I had to make the appointment.

I’m not going back to my old dentist. I really liked them in terms of the way they spoke to me, but no dentist has ever caused me that much lasting pain after a cleaning, and I don’t think I can go back.

After reading their website, I found out my husband’s dentist not only has great reviews, but they offer sedation dentistry. So if I do end up needing fillings, I could be asleep during the appointment.

I don’t really expect this to diminish my fear significantly in the days leading up to the appointment, so I’m going to leave this as a level 5 fear—any and all dentistry just spurs inordinately massive terror for me.

Making the appointment wasn’t too bad. They were nice on the phone and told me cleanings shouldn’t hurt. My appointment is in a week, and thanks to getting to check a fear off the list, I was happy to have made the call rather than hanging up and immediately feeling dread.

We’ll see how this goes . . .

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