Dental phobia - Sue's story

A root canal procedure left Sue Walker very anxious about going to the dentist, she didn’t go for regular check-ups or treatments for more than 12 years.

Sue Walker, 58 from Chester, was so scared of visiting the dentist after this negative experience, that she would only visit for emergency treatment, and when she did, she would be so terrified she would end up crying upon entering the practice.

It took Sue finding a clinician that specialised in helping patients with dental anxiety and seven months in therapy to be able to finally overcome her phobia and comfortably start to visit the dentist once again.

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Here, Sue shares her experiences from one traumatic experience to years of fear, and how she is now so comfortable she is even volunteering to have orthodontic treatment to fix issues from the years without professional dental care.
“As a child I never really liked visiting the dentist, but I knew I had to go, so initially it was more something that I resigned myself to rather than having an outright fear of,” explained Sue.
“But it was a bad experience with a root canal treatment when I was in my mid-40s, that really acted as a catalyst for my acute dental phobia developing.
I was going in for a routine root canal, and so the area was numbed and at first I couldn’t feel anything when the procedure started, but I think the root for this tooth was particularly deep, and so a certain part further down hadn’t been fully numbed. As the procedure progressed the pain began to develop and it quickly became excruciating.
“I later had to have the procedure finished at a different practice, using a tablet sedation, but the damage was already done and my fear had evolved into a full phobia, exacerbating and reawakening all the fears and discomfort I had felt as a child.
“The fear became so extreme that if my friends or colleagues were talking about teeth, or if I heard a story related to dentistry on the news, I just had to walk away as I would instantly start feeling anxious. I also avoided going to the dentist at all costs, unless I had a real emergency.
“Then one day I was driving home from work through Ellesmere Port, when I saw a sign outside of a dental practice, Whitby Dental, saying they could help nervous patients. I worked up the courage and went in the next day, but as soon as I walked through the door I started crying.
“The team were brilliant and didn’t seem taken aback with a woman stood in their reception in tears! I met the practice owner, Dr Roy Bennett, and he was brilliant right away as he wanted to listen to my experiences and needs. He booked me in for two appointments where I sat in a normal chair and he would look at my teeth from a distance and we would discuss potential issues and treatments.
“I then progressed to sitting in the dental chair and Roy examined my mouth and told me all the treatment I would need due to the years without dental treatment, primarily fillings. I had to have sedation to have the treatments done and my husband by my side.
“Although he had been brilliant at helping, my dental anxiety and fear was still strong, so Roy suggested seeing if I could get any therapy via my GP. I went along to my doctors, and even just explaining my issue I began to cry, and my doctor agreed therapy was necessary.
“I was referred onto a therapist and after talking to her, she instantly knew what treatment would suit my needs. She believed, as I did, that the root canal was the specific trauma that created my phobia, and while we normally file away memories in an area of our brain and pull them out when appropriate, the memory of the root canal experience had never been properly dealt with and filed away, so it always felt like a very recent and intense memory when I thought about dentists or returned to practice.
“She therefore recommended EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing), which is often used for PTSD to overcome specific trauma. She would tap alternately on my knees as I relived the traumatic memory until I was able to pack it away in my brain.
“Overall the treatment at therapy took around seven months until I was signed off. I then started further desensitisation techniques, such as driving to the dentists, then moving into sitting into the waiting room for half an hour so that I could get used to the environment.
“The dental team then showed me all of the equipment and all of the drills and I would practice sitting in the chair, which I realised through therapy was part of the crux of my fear, as it made me feel so small and powerless to lean back and have people stood over me. I even used to play drill noises throughout the day until it became white noise to me.
“All of this combined with the hard work of my therapist and the brilliant team at Whitby Dental meant I finally overcame my dental phobia and anxiety.
“Due to the years of neglect, I needed a fair amount of work on my teeth, including visiting the hygienist, which is something I had never done before, but I took it all in my stride. I was also recommended braces to fix some issues with my teeth and I was more than happy to have the treatment, which meant visiting the practice twice a month, but I no longer felt any fear.
“Roy and his team are experts in helping nervous patients, and they really became cheerleaders for me through my journey and always tried to make sure I was comfortable. Roy was the first clinician I met who really wanted to get to the underlying cause of my issue and start the long journey in tackling it. It shows how important finding the right dentist is for those with dental anxiety.
“Roy’s help and my therapy sessions really have changed my life, which may sound over the top, but I am a different woman now. Before I couldn’t even talk about teeth without crying and now I can visit my dentist with ease, and most importantly, keep on top of my dental health.”

Dental phobia causes and solutions

We want to reassure those nervous about attending our practices that support will be readily available to help with any issues around dental phobia.

Carol's story

Carol Gerrard suffered from dental anxiety from a very young age, triggered by several negative and traumatic experiences at the dentist as a child.