Dental phobia – a case study

I’m contacted by a lot of people who say they have dental phobia.   A large number of them turn out to not like going, but it doesn’t stop them seeing the dentist or having work done.  Alan* though was at the very opposite end of this reaction.

“Quite frankly I’m terrified of the dentist” he told me.  “I think I always have been.  I remember my mum telling me how much I screamed when I got in the chair. I don’t remember that myself but apparently they had to put the mask over me and put me under.” 

Given the length of time that he’d had this phobia I asked Alan what he’d done previously to try and get past it. 

“I’ve tried pretty much everything.  There was a time I used to try to see a different dental surgery every time, so that I didn’t end up afraid of the same one.  But I just ended up being afraid of lots of them instead, and then it got more difficult to move round anyway.”

“So, I stuck with the same one and tried to get used to that.  I even used to go in the waiting room when I didn’t have an appointment, to try and get used to it.  But the receptionists couldn’t understand what I was doing, and I couldn’t kid myself into thinking I’d actually be seeing the dentist.”

“Then I read something about how it can be the smell of the dentists so I started using Vicks Sinex to mask it when I went.  All I ended up doing was learning to be afraid of the smell of decongestant as well.”

“So I ended up avoiding going to the dentist, and then avoiding even seeing dentists on the tv in case that made me uncomfortable.  Until the other day I had to leave the room when our grand-daughter was watching Peppa Pig visit her dentist, Dr Elephant.  How can I be scared of a cartoon bloody elephant?”

“I realised then that enough is enough.  And I’ve got to go, as I’ve had a toothache for months that isn’t going away, and I just keep taking painkillers when it gets on top of me.”

In other circumstances I might have worked with Alan entirely on learning to feel more and more calm in the dentists, helping him progress through visiting the dentists to make an appointment, then the x-ray, then the check-up, then the treatment, and so on.

As things were more urgent though we decided to tackle the root cause of his fear.  Under hypnosis I took Alan back to a visit to a recent visit to the dentist, helping him to feel safe while he got hold of his feelings as he sat down in the chair, before taking him back to his first memory.

What Alan remembered surprised him.  Seeing it now as an adult he understood where his dental phobia had come from – and was also able to give himself the help he never had as a child to deal with what happened.

Within a couple of sessions we had that painful memory anaesthetised, and with it the fear of the needles, and of having to lie back in the chair, and of being judged right throughout the treatment.  Alan was able to make an appointment, and have the work done that he needed.

“They had to take the tooth out” he told me later, ”and it was only after that I realised how much the pain had affected me.  And I didn’t realise how much the dental phobia had affected me either until that went.”

*Alan is happy to share their story, and their identity has been protected

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