12 March 2013

Facing Fears: The Dentist Edition

I never loved the dentist. I have a sensitive gag reflex (insert inappropriate joke here). I also hate the sound and smell of those drills. I have had to deal with judgmental, condescending dentists and hygienists in the past, and I think that compounded my discomfort with dental work. But despite all of these negative associations, I have had extensive oral surgery (I had way too many teeth for my little mouth), full braces (with those horrid rubber band things), numerous x-rays, a root canal, and numerous fillings performed. All without any real problems beyond a general distaste for being in the dentist chair. All of this work was done more than ten years ago.

However, since having extreme anxiety and being prone to panic attacks, my fear of the dentist turned into this epic battle of Carly versus dental drills all over the world. It started innocently enough. Awhile back, I realized I really needed to schedule a cleaning. When was my last cleaning? After some quick research, I  discovered I had not actually had my teeth cleaned since I was in college. Maybe 2001 or 2002? YIKES. I had been back to the dentist to get a few fillings taken care of over the years, but I hadn't actually had a cleaning in almost TEN years?!? There was always an excuse. No dental insurance. I moved and didn't have a local dentist. I was too busy. Blah blah blah.

Once I discovered I hadn't had an actual cleaning in almost ten years, I panicked. There was no way I could face the dentist due to my newly acquired "problem" of having panic attacks. I was going to die in that chair. No wait, first I would gag, then I would die. I started googling local dentists who specialized in putting their patients under for cleanings. I wanted to be knocked out for a 40 minute cleaning. We aren't even talking about fillings or root canals at this point. Just a fucking cleaning. Okay, so I had a problem...and it was all in my head.

Here is how I worked on solving my problem. A few months back, I decided I couldn't go back to the dentist without some sort of anxiety medication. I called my regular doctor, scheduled a check-up with her, and she hesitantly gave me a prescription for klonopin. I say "hesitantly" because she really didn't want me on pills. I was finally off Paxil (woohoo!), and doing well, so she really didn't want me to feel like I needed to rely on more pills. Fair enough. But, at that point, I didn't really give a shit, and just wanted her to give me the good stuff.

So I left my doctor's office feeling somewhat relieved. Having those pills in my hand gave me the strength to schedule an appointment for a cleaning. When the time came for the appointment, I had already considered cancelling it a half dozen times. But I tried to be strong, and I decided I would take half a klonopin before the appointment and see how I felt. The klonopin worked pretty well, and I managed to get through the cleaning with only minor feelings of anxiety. AMAZING. Also, my new dentist was SO nice and knew I was feeling scared. He reassured me and made me feel much more at ease. He was very matter of fact, and told me I had cavities, but didn't harp on it.

At the end of my cleaning, I felt pretty proud of myself, except for the fact I had a few (5) cavities, and the klonopin made me kinda woozy. I was nauseous the day after, which wasn't fun. However, I survived.

Yesterday was my first appointment to get half the fillings done. I felt a little stronger and braver than I had before my first cleaning in ten years, so I decided to try sitting in the chair without the klonopin. I'm not sure if it was a mistake, but my heart was beating so fast, and I was a hot mess. I maintained my composure, but my insides were twisting and turning. I had forgotten about all the drilling and intimidating dental equipment involved in filling a cavity. Why I was so afraid of a cleaning when it was cake compared to a filling? I have no idea. I managed to breathe my way through the rest of the appointment, and left feeling numb and sore, but still pretty good. I have one more appointment left to fill the cavities on the other side of my mouth, and I haven't yet decided if I will go back to the klonopin or not. I absolutely don't feel like taking the medication makes me a weakling or any less strong mentally. My issue is that I don't want to feel nauseous the next day. Hahahaha!

I don't know if I will always feel this anxious for dental appointments. I really hope not. I have spent a lot of time getting down on myself thinking "This is ridiculous. Five years ago I could walk into a dental office. No sweat. What is wrong with me?" Truthfully, I don't really know why my mind works differently now. I don't know why I over-think everything. I am working on trying to figure it all out. But, in the meantime, I am celebrating all my victories (no matter how small) and taking pride in the fact that I am facing my fears.

Any other dental-phobes out there? Don't feel like you have to share if you don't want to. It was pretty damn hard for me to admit that I haven't had a cleaning in ten years. I mean, ummm, gross. But, yeah, that's my story.




7 comments:

  1. Hi - I, too, an not a fan of the dentist. Listening to music and/or podcasts have been extremely helpful.

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  2. I don't have a problem with the dentist but I do have things that I used to be able to easily do that all of a sudden cause major anxiety. For example, in college I traveled alone all the time. Then right after I got married, I had such awful travel anxiety that I couldn't even go on a long car ride. It was so weird! I've managed to get past that now but I never know what will cause an anxiety attack.

    I'm glad you managed to face the dentist and get most of your fillings done!

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  3. I have to take an ativan to even call the dentist to make an appointment, so I know how you feel!

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  4. Good for you for going back to the dentist after so many years. You did good!! :)

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  5. I find this totally rational and also had to have tons of teeth pulled as a kid and had braces for 5 years so I think we are justified!!

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  6. I am terrified of the dentist and it has been a while since I've been. The last 3 times I went, I walked out in tears because of mean dentists/hygienists. Just talking about going (which I know I need to) starts my heart racing. So you are most certainly not alone!

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