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I have a great phobia of dental treatment which has lead to the deterioration of my oral health, what should I do?

Hi,

I really need some help and am unsure what to do. I am 32 years old and have only attended a handful of emergency dental appointments since my mid teens due to a phobia. My most recent appointment to the emergency dentist (due to a broken tooth) has led to a referral to an oral surgeon for extraction of the tooth. I have attended the initial consultation and now I am also planned to have one of my wisdom teeth out also.

My problem is, I can’t think of any way possible to attend for this surgery which has been booked for the end of this month. I am absolutely terrified. I know I need this surgery, I have been unable to eat properly for 3 months. But having not had a normal dentist appointment in almost 20 years due to this fear, I feel it has just gone too far. I don’t know what to do.

My primary fears which lead me to avoiding regular dental check-ups are: being trapped in the chair, unable to move; having somebody in my mouth; and feeling like I can’t breathe. In addition to this, the thought of surgery also makes me fear complications that could lead to illness or pain.

What makes this even worse is that I know this is absolutely irrational, and know that given I am a CBT therapist, I should be able to do something about this. However, as is common with all phobias, avoidance is far easier than dealing with the distress…and even when I do try I am just absolutely overwhelmed. Turning to a colleague for help would not be an appropriate course of action.

I do not know what to do. I want this surgery, but am too scared to go through with it. Your insight would be greatly appreciated.

Many Thanks

Hi
Its interesting that you say you are a CBT therapist . I have quite a few patients who are psychotherapist or who are in that line . They feel that somehow this makes them even more weak for not being able to sort this particular problem out .
Its who you are not what you are that matters . You are a human being who has a particular problem with having a dental phobia. When it began you were in your mid teens , long before you had any psychological training .
CBT is useful for some people but as with any treatment modality it doesn’t work for everyone .
Lets look at what you succeeded with , you got to the emergency dentist because you were desperate so that overcame your anxieties . Was that as bad as you expected ? What went well ?
You took their advice and attended a consultation with the Oral Surgeon , which meant that you were series about sorting this problem out .
In an ideal world if you were not now in pain I would suggest that you find an empathetic dentist to have a check and maybe some cleaning ?
to get you into the habit of being in the chair .
tell the dentist about your fears . some of them are your mind giving you worst case scenarios which are extremely unlikely to happen .
Feeling like you can’t breathe may be easier if you ask to sit up a bit , and if you have treatment the dental nurse and dentist makes sure that you are able to stop / and swallow from time to time .
The feeling of not being able to breathe can also be part of a panic reaction beginning , and finding out how to control your breathing when anxiety wells up would be helpful .
Having somebody in your mouth is unfortunately not avoidable , but perhaps you could think of why this may be an issue for you , and some strategies to deal with it .
Sorry about the long reply , but this is actually quite a complex problem .
I wouldn’t start by having a wisdom tooth out unless its absolutely clinically necessary ., but thats an opinion .
Jenny

Answer provided by: Dr Jennifer Pinder Retired
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