Before I get started down the particular path I’ve chosen for this column, let me say right up front that I admire and respect dentists and the practice of dentistry. My teeth are very important to me (as they help me engage in a favorite pastime — eating!). I know that dentists must survive arduous training to become certified and/or licensed. I know they, and their staff, put in long hours to make our teeth healthy and keep us in good shape. This work involves many hours of bending over dental chairs, creating back and neck issues. So all in all, I admire dentistry and the talented people who choose it as a career.
I’ve said all this to be sure I don’t offend anyone by sharing that I suffer from odontophobia or dentophobia. It’s pretty common, actually. According to various websites, anywhere from 70% to 80% of Americans share this fear — the fear of going to the dentist!
Actually, I’m not sure that “fear” is the appropriate word. “Dread” might be the best word to describe my feelings about the dentist.
It started when I was a child. My first cavity was filled without Novocain. Before you think that’s barbaric, please be aware that it was my choice. In fact, it was my demand. I hate and abhor needles and the thought of one in my mouth made me throw such a fit that the good dentist filled my cavity without any anesthetic. It was, very likely, a small cavity and not near a root or nerve, because it didn’t cause untold agony. It was just uncomfortable. It turns out that a fear of needles or shots ranks as sixth most common in some polls on fears, so I’m in pretty good company.
That filling was nothing compared to the years of orthodontia I wore on my teeth. In those days, you had to go every month to have the wires on your braces tightened. This caused such pain that I couldn’t eat or drink for several days and my mouth was sore the entire time. No amount of aspirin reduced that pain. Every month I went through this ordeal, from seventh grade through tenth grade.
Perhaps that’s when my odontophobia started. I really do hate to go to the dentist. I make myself go now, because as I get older, it’s even more important to me that my oral hygiene remains intact. I have artificial lenses in my eyes and a hearing aid in one ear, so it seems dentures are next on the inevitable list. I’m trying to postpone that as long as possible.
Meanwhile, many people seem to share this dread. According to a recent article I read, dentist and dental staff can help put us at ease a little by having “good manners, good chairside skills, keep up to date in training and have patience with nervous patients.” All of these are good ideas, but for me, nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is still the best.
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Sue is a retired public servant who volunteers at the Hospice store (For All Seasons) in Troy and teaches part-time at Urbana University. She keeps busy taking care of husband, house, and pets. She and her husband have an adult son who lives in Troy.