Dental Anxiety or Phobia?

By Dr. Waich

Part I: Why?…

dental phobiaLast week I had a patient which clearly has dental phobia. I could not work on him at all. We took x-ray pictures and that’s it. When I went to the chair to examine him, he was on my chair because he couldn’t even stay laying down on the dental chair.


I must admit that he inspired me immensely to write these words and to start this blog. He gave me a huge flashback to my memories, right to where he was at that moment. He was even looking for a full sedation outside the country in order to have his treatments done. I really hope he comes back. I even showed him my x-rays and told him my whole story. I think we got connected somehow. Soon I will write the chapter about him.

This blog is about my experiences that landed me into Dentistry, and everything I’ve done to become the best professional that I can be. If you are still there, you will have the opportunity to read about my funny and sad stories, no drama please. And I will also show you about technology, psychology, medicine and more, which have helped patients overcome the pain and the anxiety of being on the dental chair. In my next post, I will be talking about my first dental visit. See you very soon!

Part II: My first, second and last Visit

It’s impossible to begin writing this blog without introducing you to my personal story. I have to go back 31 years ago, when my dad took me to his “dentist friend” for my first dental checkup and necessary dental work. I don’t remember quite well what was treated that decisive day, but it included a baby tooth extraction, no anesthesia, and plenty of tears. Certainly, one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. Years after, my sister needed retainers and I was forced to accompany her to the Orthodontist.

alginate impression

Innocent me, I was of course thrown to the pit again; this time the suffering came in a form of an alginate dental impression, accompanied by a quick nausea and re-decorating of the dentist’s shiny floor. I came back home with a retainer and guess what? I lost it the next day. Silly me, I left it in a napkin at dinner. My dad was so frustrated that he didn’t take me to the dentist again.

happy pediatric patient
Happy pediatric patient, good expirience with Dr. Waich

Fast forward a decade, I am 15 years old on an overseas school trip interrupted by the worst pain ever. I was strapped to a dental chair once again, this time for my first endodontic treatment.  While my friends were frolicking across Asia, I had to wash dishes to pay off the root canal. When I came back from the school trip, my dad picked me up at the airport and drove me straight to the family dentist. A panoramic x-ray later, it turns out I needed 3 root canals, had 13 cavities, a huge tooth stuck right in the middle of my palate, my wisdom teeth were impacted, and to top it off – I needed braces.



Part III: The come back

Every week my friends where going for extracurricular activities, like dancing or some kind of sport, but instead I was going almost every day to the dentist. To better picture the situation, I want you to close your eyes and see me as a 16 years old lying down in a dental chair crying non-stop. No matter what the dentist was going to do that day, a pool of water will come out of my ears (that’s what happen when you cry laying down, without being able to move, because someone has her hand in your mouth with a 5000 rpm machine drilling your teeth). Nightmare.

The icing on the cake was, that it was so much work to be done, that my dad and the dentist decided that I could not have the white fillings made because they were very “exclusive”, and I couldn’t afford that. Even when she finished one of the root canals, she wanted to put a silver crown on my tooth, super shiny and ugly. I remember telling her “NO way I am getting that in my mouth”, and I didn’t. 5 years ago I lost that tooth, but I will talk about that latter.

Part IV: the final desition

Finally, I finished my university applications, and I applied for anything you can imagine: Architecture, I was really good with my hands; Medicine, I loved science in general; Chemical Engineering, Social Communications (I wanted to work in radio or TV, and I got certified but that’s a story for another blog) and finally… Dentistry. I will never know for sure why I applied, but I can suspect that it was because I went so many times to the dentist that year, that I had to wait forever until my dad would pick me up from the dental office… and that’s when I learned so much about Dentistry. He worked until 6pm, plus the heavy traffic, so the dentist had no choice but to explain me everything and let me help her with other patients while I waited for my dad to arrive. And I guess a vocation was born.

During that year, I got almost all my treatments done. I just had the surgeries pending, and started the braces which I will remember forever because you can definitely see them in my high-school yearbook – not funny -.

Also, the day I went for the first time to school with them, this mean girl screamed in front of all the class “look at ugly Betty and her new braces!”. To finish the treatment, I had to have a surgery on my palate to remove a tooth that got impacted years ago because apparently I got hit on my right canine and it damage the appropriate pathway of teeth eruption. They opened my palate, put a bracket on the tooth and wired it to the rest of the braces… until the tooth decided to show up in my mouth backward. Another year passed trying to put it forward. My dentist sent me to her sister which was an oral surgeon, and she did anesthesia in my palate to remove it, which of course it was necessary. I can’t explain how painful that anesthesia was. It’s the only thing I still remember clearly from that day.

Part V: Dental School

A few years later, in 2001 and now 21 years old, I graduated as a dentist. But before that happened, during the first year of school, it was a mandatory “thing” to extract your wisdom teeth. So I did it right after I finished the braces. My face looked like chubby Vivi for 2 weeks eating vanilla ice cream and apple sauce, which of course I can’t eat now.

I have to say not everything was bad in dental school. I learned to love the profession and what I do: care for people and understand how to deal with the fear over what we do. When a patient tells me it hurts, I know it does HURT. Been there, done that. I also got to meet amazing professionals and friends, I went sky diving the day I became 18th (without my dad’s consent, ups!) with one of my friends from school. I participated in a radio show competition and got 2nd place thanks to all dental school that voted for me, and ended up participating in a radio show all year long. While studying Dentistry, I got to understand that Architecture and Medicine was the perfect career for the combination of Arts and Sciences.

Part VI: thank G/D only Anxiety

While writing this blog, I read about phobias and I found the following definition: A phobia is an intense, unreasonable fear. People can fear a specific activity, object or situation. People with dental phobia often put off routine care for years or even decades. To avoid it, they’ll put up with gum infections (periodontal disease), pain, or even broken and unsightly teeth.

Dental anxiety and phobia are extremely common. It has been estimated that 9% to 15% of Americans avoid seeing the dentist because of anxiety and fear. That’s about 30 million to 40 million people. In a survey by the British Dental Health Foundation, 36% of those who didn’t see a dentist regularly said that fear was the main reason.

People often use the words “anxiety” and “phobia” to mean the same thing, but they are different.

Those with dental anxiety will have a sense of uneasiness when it’s time for their appointments. They’ll have exaggerated or unfounded worries or fears. Dental phobia is a more serious condition. It’s an intense fear or dread. People with dental phobia aren’t merely anxious. They are terrified or panic stricken.

At this point of my life, I was lucky it was more anxiety than phobia. I’m still afraid to get any dental work done. I get tachycardia and my hands turn purple. I always tell the dentist that is working on me what to do and what not to do; poor dentist that has to deal with me.

The tooth I fixed on my vacation ended up in Boston in the middle of a dental implant meeting with a very good professional. I showed him my x-rays and he told me “let’s do it now”. Which of course I did. That was a crazy decision but I’m glad I did it. My associate implanted the tooth a few months later, and it was not painful at all, except the same story with the injection.

I also did Invisalign a few years ago because I needed some touch ups after my braces, and I’m actually really good on it (I did it to myself, that was the best part). And now I’m done, and free!

anxiety 6.PNG