The Fear, The Phobia

This is going to be a difficult post to write. If I don’t sound like myself it’s because I’m trying to keep distance and keep calm.

Those of you that know me well, know I’m dental phobic. Those of you who don’t know me that well, may also know I’m dental phobic.

I’m sure there are people out there who might say, “oh phooey, you’re just a little scared, everyone’s scared of the dentist,” and many might agree. I want to get something straight here…there’s a huge difference between being a little scared and the irrational, gut shredding terror that occurs when I deal with the dentist. 

Physically, this happens: my pulse goes bananas, my heart feels heavy and beats stronger than ever, breathing becomes ragged, every movement catches my eye, arms and legs feel leaden but won’t be still. Mentally, it’s a black hole of despair. Forcing myself to stay in my seat when I just want to run out of the chair/waiting room, constantly telling myself to control my breathing, just stay for this one minute, over and over again. 

I know it’s all in my head. It doesn’t mean I can stop the physical response my body has when I’m talking on the phone to the dentist – yes, phobic even on the phone, still. It has taken me four years to be able to sit with legs up in the chair and be lowered back. My first visit in 10+ years was after a tooth broke. A colleague had to call for an appointment. My manager at the time walked in to the reception with me and stood behind me blocking the door in case I ran. My hands shook so much I could barely sign my name. I forgot my address and phone number. I sat on the edge of the chair with one foot on the floor like a chaste silent movie star. Hands clenched with white knuckles gripping each other. Tears escaping from the wide open eyes. Just writing about this memory has my hands shaking.

As a phobic you become adept at managing pain and avoiding the problem. Pain thresholds increase. Ignore it and it’ll go away (it doesn’t.) It doesn’t hurt today so I don’t have to deal with it. Don’t focus on the proverbial elephant in the room. Great coping mechanism, I hear you say…

My only two panic attacks have come from this phobia. One was in the safety of my home, one was in the chair of a “phobic friendly” dentist as we were about to deal with a small cavity before dealing with the bigger issues caused by the broken teeth. I don’t think he’d ever had as severe a reaction or phobic in the chair. All the distraction techniques in the world weren’t going to help, despite his best efforts. I couldn’t relax, so the injection hurt. The pain made me panic and led into a full blown anxiety attack. My hands became paralysed, I couldn’t straighten them. I thought I was having some sort of stroke. I walked out exhausted with a half numb face, £120 poorer and with no dental work done. I have never gone back.

Time passed and things got worse. I’ll spare the details but I can tell you that dental pain is in a class of its own. I was popping paracetamol and ibuprofen alternately and in the haze of a painful nights sleep due to an abscess I trawled through dental phobic forums and found an actual specialist. She responded to my Sunday-4am-help-me-please-I’m-at-my-wits-end email that very morning and told me to come in the next day. She was kind. She understood the mental and psychological aspect of the phobia. She didn’t fob me off with the platitudes I’d heard before from well meaning dentists. Detailed X-rays were taken. We went through the options.  
The best option was to have the two broken teeth removed. One could probably be saved but that kind of procedure is not a good idea for someone as phobic as I am. I’ve been referred to Guy’s Hospital and after going in for an initial assessment two weeks ago, I’m going in for extraction under IV sedation this Thursday.  I’ll update this post after the procedure. To say I’m scared would be an understatement. Part of me isn’t quite sure why I’ve written this but if it helps someone else understand then I suppose it was worth it. Maybe after Thursday I’ll see that it was worth it. I just hope I can get through it without another panic attack. That would be a start. 


  1. It’s a great start you already got through one appointment. I also am terrified of the dentist and when I last went and got three cavities filled I was shaking so much I could barely walk


  2. Only just read this and totally understand Catherine. I know I dislike the dentist but not to the extreme phobia stage – I have known several patients that explain the same as your post to me and my heart goes out to you as it can really feel horrible to have to deal with such a phobia head on. How nice of the specialist to get in touch – there really are some good eggs out there! Hope it’s all sorted now – I know this reply is overly late! x

    Liked by 1 person

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