I have had a fear for over 20 years and I finally destroyed that fear. Yes, it took me 20 years to beat the fear, but the point is, I beat it and I am proud of myself for having destroyed that fear, which literally disabled me during that time.
When I say disabled, I mean I could not, literally, could not venture into a dentist office without getting physically sick. I know, because I tried it once.
So here is my fear. I was terrified of the dental hygienist. Not the dentist. I had no problem with the dentist, but that hygienist was my absolute terror. And it wasn’t the tools welded by the hygienist, it was her lack of hygiene. How could a hygienist be so lax in hygiene?
Here’s my story. I made an appointment at my favorite dentist’s office, signed in and sat down where I could watch the beautiful tropical fish swim around in the wall sized tank. I loved watching them swim around and through the various “ruins” in the bottom of the tank and marveled at how clean the tank always was.
The hygienist came out and called my name and I noticed she had gloves on, a clipboard in one hand, a pen between her teeth, and her hand was on the door jamb as though she was so tired she needed the wall to hold herself up. When she took her hand off the door jamb, I noticed the worn or filthy spot where her hand had been and wondered how long she had been suffering from this fatigue syndrome.
We walked down the hall, she stopped me at the place where she proceeded to do a “bite-wing x-ray” and then into her cubical for the usual poking and cleaning. I had never been afraid of this part before.
As I sat down, I noticed she reached up and opened the blinds to look out at the world for a few moments, then she closed them. All the while with the same gloves on and the pen between her teeth.
Then she adjusted the chair, the lamp, and opened and closed every drawer beside her, took the pen from her teeth, wrote something on the clipboard, put the “bib” on me, and said, “Open wide, please.”
I said, “Wait! Could you please change your gloves. I’ve seen where those have been and I don’t want them in my mouth.”
She heaved a very heavy sigh, designed to make me aware of her disgust with me, and she opened a drawer and slammed it shut and put another pair of gloves on over the first and I remember wondering if they were new or just used ones she'd salvaged.
No hand washing, just one pair of dubious gloves on over the first pair of soiled ones.
This was at the height of awareness of HIV issues and I was one of the uneducated people that knew nothing about HIV except that you could get it by the disease finding its way into your system by contact as in your mouth or other orifices.
Now my fear is more heightened and I’m wondering why she is being so “dirty.” I am now acutely watching her every move.
Her assistant comes in, sits down and leans on the “back” of the chair but does nothing besides twist back and forth in the chair, like a pendulum on a clock.
So now she reaches up and readjusts the light and I said, “Now your touching the light.”
She said with an exasperated attitude, “It has a cover on it. It was cleaned last night and covered with a plastic sleeve. Now open wide.”
I ripped the bib off, wiggled off the chair as she was too shocked to move, and once I was standing I said, “I can’t sit here and let you poke around in my mouth with your attitude and lack of hygiene.
“Everything in here is filthy and you’ve touched everything already with dirty gloves and your writing with a pen that you constantly hold between your teeth. I don’t know your medical history and I don’t want to know but I don’t want your germs in my mouth. I’m not paying for this cleaning, I won’t let you touch my mouth, I won’t be back.”
I left that office and never went back, partly because I knew someone would remember that I had left without paying and I didn’t want the fight, but mainly because I could not force myself to go to a hygienist.
Twenty years without going to the dentist was starting to take its toll on my mouth and mind. I feared the number of cavities hiding under the plaqie, my teeth were yellow, and the bottom front ones were buried in plaque. So I called a new dentist’s office and asked for an appointment to see the hygienist, but it was for a consult not an exam. I told the person answering the phone that I was terrified of the hygienist and needed to talk. They set me up with their best.
So I do the required stuff of going early, giving over my insurance, filling out the paperwork and then waiting. I am her first of the day, which made me feel good at least in that area.
She comes out, no gloves on, no clipboard, no pen in sight. She smiles and introduces herself and we go back to her “office,” a room of her own, not a cubical shared with anyone else.
I sit in the chair and she leans against the cupboard. She asked a few questions and then I said, “May I tell you my experience and why I am so terrified that I haven’t been able to force myself into a dentist office for over 20 years?”
“Yes, please,” she said. I gave her the details of my fear and I thought she was going to vomit. She was disgusted, mortified, apologetic, and angry. All at the same time. She vowed to eliminate my fear and change my feelings for dentistry.
She did. The first thing she did was turn around and wash her hands like a surgeon, brush, soap, nearly to her elbows, then she dried them on a paper towel that was thrown into the trash and she pulled a pair of new gloves from a box in a clear holder from the wall. You had to know those were new sterile gloves.
I never feared once from her. She had my teeth probed and on report to an assistant that actually did something. She touched nothing after she put the gloves on, except her sterile tools and my mouth. He put all the information she gave him into a computer which had a huge flat screen on the wall that I could see. Then he left and she proceeded to clean my teeth. None of this caused pain and it surprised me because I figured she’d need a jackhammer to get the plaque off alone, and would probably take some of my tooth porcelain with the plaque. I had no idea what was under there.
My teeth are white, mostly, they are unburied and then the dentist came in, checked out what I had against her work and pronounced me and my teeth in good condition. They are old teeth. Well, I’m not young so yes, my teeth are old, but they were in good shape.
So now I have no fear of the hygienist and I’m back on the road of healthy teeth and being able to feel the back of my teeth without the plaque. Now I brush my teeth and floss them almost after every meal. No I am not perfect, but I am working on it and I feel good about myself and my teeth.
If you have a fear of something, figure out why and then attack that fear until you destroy it. It feels so much better being fearless than having it hang over you making you helpless. I know. I’ve been there.
I wish you lots of strength and I hope you destroy your fears quickly.