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DocSpot: Fear of the dentist

Dear Dr Margaret
My teeth are in a bad state, but I can't face going to a dentist. Even the thought of being in the dentist's chair and the instruments approaching makes me panic. There is no way I can go.

I can really empathize with you, because I used to have this problem myself. In my case it was cured by finding a kindly dentist who took notice of my fears. The obvious first step is to do some research about dentists in your area. Don't panic at this stage - remind yourself that you are just fact-finding and you don't have to go. Ask your friends quite detailed questions. You want to find a dentist who has a nice manner, who explains everything, who offers painkilling injections for even minor procedures, and who stops the procedure immediately if there is any pain. Make a list of possible dentists, with the nicest-sounding one at the top. For information on finding a dentist in the UK, look at
Try to analyse what scares you most. Is it the possibility of pain, or having an injection, or the instruments in your mouth, or a trapped feeling? Is it the sound of the drill? Or are you worried that your teeth are so bad that you might need to have them out? Whatever the fear really is, you need to pinpoint it so that you will be able to talk it through with the dentist. I don't know how old you are, but people over 50 are often terrified of the dentist because of bad childhood experiences in the 1950s and early 1960s. In those days, it was unusual to be offered a numbing injection, and you were supposed to bear the relentless drilling without complaint. Thank goodness attitudes are different now.
When you have located a sympathetic-sounding dentist, a good first step would be to call in to speak to the receptionist. You could phone if that feels easier, but a visit would be a good first achievement, and it would also allow you to gauge the atmosphere. Make an appointment only for a check-up. Tell the receptionist you do not wish to have anything done at that appointment. Or if that feels too scary, tell the receptionist you are very frightened of dentistry, and would like an appointment with the dentist to discuss this fear. Dentists are now very aware of how people like you feel, and won't think you are cowardly or stupid. The British Dental Health Foundation suggests that you should make an appointment for a time of day when you are not stressed. For example, don't book it when you have to be somewhere else soon afterwards. They also suggest taking a reassuring friend with you, who is not frightened of the dentist, but understands your problem and sympathizes with you.
Don't expect to overcome your fear straight away. You will have to build your confidence gradually, one step at a time. When you see the dentist, explain that you haven't been for a long time because of your fear, and that you know your teeth are bad. Explain what your particular fear is, and why you think it arose in the first place. Then ask the dentist to just look with a mirror, and not use any other instruments. Once your dentist understands your fears, he or she will be able to think of ways of overcoming your particular difficulties. You are sure to find that some of your worst fears are needless. Take it from me, modern dentistry is now painless. They even numb the gum with a dab of special liquid before giving a painkilling injection, so you hardly even feel the injection. For more advice, look at
If at the first consultation you don't like the dentist that you have chosen, you don't have to go again. Try the next one on your list.

Last updated; Sunday, August 30th 2020

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