Irrational Fear of Dentists

Hannah Kiges, Variety Editor

“But they’re going to rip things out of my face!” I somehow managed to yell between sobbing and hyperventilating. For most people a trip to the dentist is annoying at most, a little weird and uncomfortable, but relatively worry-free. For me, a simple x-ray, check up or tooth cleaning causes panic attacks, major anxiety and more than a little crying to my mom. I have Odontophobia: An irrational and deep fear of the dentist.
Mouth pain is generally unpleasant, but as wisdom teeth are a fact of life for most people, I just ignored it and hoped it would go away after a couple days when the tooth broke the surface. It was so much easier than people had said, until my last one started coming in. At a weird angle, it scraped against my cheek and caused swelling and micro-cuts in my mouth. Something that made everything from talking to eating un-fun, and just wouldn’t go away.
Finally, after a week of trying to coax, bribe, threaten and beg me to go to the dentist to just get a check up and x-ray, I finally relinquished to my mother’s worry, but only because I wanted my face to stop hurting.
I can’t really pin point why I developed odontophobia, but since before my first dentist appointment as a child, I have been terrified. The weird chairs, the awkwardly close, scary mask-clad dentists and dental assistants, sharp things in your mouth, hands in your mouth, weird tastes, bloody gums and tooth fillings. I’ll die the day I ever have to get a root canal.
A child psychologist diagnosed me, recommended trying to make my visits more pleasant with associating it with treats and happy things. How can you associate plaque and tiny metal hooks with anything pleasant? Friends, co-workers, and relatives think my fear is silly, “No one likes the dentist’” or “stop being a baby,” are common responses. But this is my worst fear. It’s putting an arachnophobia in a room of spiders.
If you’ve never had a panic attack symptoms include inability to calm down, increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating, dizziness and more. Luckily, I only had a couple days to anticipate the coming trip, but it still resulted in two panic attacks and more than a little trying to figure a way out of it. When I finally arrived at my appointment, got through the exam and x-rays with no incident, they told me what I’d been fearing since I learned of their existence: I needed my wisdom teeth taken out.
Oral surgery, tooth removal and the like are painful, but generally worry-free and eased with medication. For me, just the mention involved two hours of uncontrollable sobbing and freaking out. As I write this, I have not gone yet. I will be going on our publish date, and every day till then has been filled with high levels of anxiety. For me this is not a few days of pain and an excuse to eat nothing but mashed potatoes, it’s a panic-attack inducing event that feels like life or death.
Logically, I realize it’s a simple procedure, but that doesn’t stop the fact they are ripping things out of my mouth. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do.