Posted by: Kate | November 5, 2009

Fear of Receptionists

So, yeah.  Bad, bad times at the dentist.

I spent yesterday writing and editing the letter I posted here, and will get that out in today’s mail, along with the HIPAA violation form.  (Which, to add annoyance to injury, cannot be completed electronically because there are errors in the .pdf form online.  That’s probably ironic, right?)

On today’s agenda, apparently, is some self-flagellation, which is pretty much par for the course after any dental interaction for me.  A part of my brain knows and has accepted that phobias are, by definition, illogical and disproportionate, and that it’s a big enough deal to have come as far as I have from the rest of the PTSD symptoms.  But the louder part of my brain spends its time nattering on about how embarrassing it is to be afraid of something simple like the dentist, they mean no harm, I’ve never actually had a truly bad experience in the dental chair, it’s a fear I deflected from a different source and just can’t seem to undeflect now, I’m a trained psychologist and should know better, it’s a straightforward phobia and the right treatment could probably clear it right up, I’ve caused unnecessary concern and stress for my loved ones… and so on.  Somehow it’s easier to blame yourself, even when you know better.

I won’t wallow in that for too long, because I’m just not built that way, but it seems to be an inevitable part of the process.

And, as the hours tick by, I find new and subtle things to get pissed off about.  Things that aren’t worth including in the letter to the dentist or the HIPAA report, because they’re details and inferences rather than direct, observable events, but things that grate on me nonetheless.

Things like, I worked hard to overcome that phobia as far as I had.  Really hard.  I went six years without setting foot inside a dentist office, and so I could indulge in a certain level of twisted pride to know that I was starting to push that back.  Setbacks have occurred for smaller reasons than what happened Tuesday night.

Things like, I never used to be all that afraid to walk into the building.  I could remain in the waiting room during Willem’s and the kids’ appointments, and sometimes I even had to sit in the exam room alongside the kids, like when Emily had a tooth extracted back in March.  The waiting room, by itself, wasn’t so bad; I could convince myself I was just in any generic doctor’s office and be just fine.  The exam room was a bit harder, and usually required some help from my good friend Ativan, but I could make it work.  Now I worry that the process of simply crossing the threshold is going to be hard for me, and instead of just the dentist I’m beginning to fear the hygienists and receptionists and office staff, too.

Things like, I had worked even harder to protect my kids from my own issues.  I’m a big fan of honesty in parenting, but only in ways that I think they can handle it and understand it fully.  So they both knew that I had to see a special dentist, which made me groggy for the rest of the day.  They knew that going to the dentist made me nervous and scared, but they’ve also heard the mantra of, “Bravery doesn’t mean not being scared… it means being scared and doing it anyway.”  They knew it made me cry, sometimes.  But they had never seen it in full-on, glorious, Technicolor action before.  They each have appointments with a new (and different) dentist next month, and I am going to be beyond pissed if they exhibit anxiety around it then, because they have never had a problem with the dentist before.

Things like, this asshat dared to speculate with my husband about where my little phobia might have come from – “it must have been something from her childhood” – as though finding a way to pinpoint a cause in the distant past somehow belittles the phenomenon.  He dared to lecture my husband about how I should probably request an initial consultation from a dentist before I start trying to see someone, even though he -a nd his staff – knew that I had a phobia and never bothered to suggest such a thing to me in advance.

Things like, this man’s basic reasoning for not seeing me was that he is not willing to share the responsibility for my health care with another practitioner.  What if he recommended that I get a cavity filled, and then the other guy did a bad job?  He actually said to Willem – this still boggles the mind – that it was the same as if he was a primary care physician and diagnosed me with a cancerous tumor, and then I went to another doctor to have it treated.  First of all, no, phobias and cancerous tumors are not the same, and secondly, that’s what’s called going to a specialist and getting a second opinion, you idiot! It was just so strange and illogical, on his part, and boils down to the overwhelming scent of insecurity and small-mindedness.

And so on.  It’s Monday morning quarterbacking, with a side of bitterness and angst.

I did get back on the horse, so to speak, yesterday afternoon, because I knew that if I put it off too long I’d let several years slip by before I went back to another dentist.  I called around, after doing much more extensive research online, and found two places willing to see me and (**gasp**) risk potentially having to refer me out for more invasive procedures.  One is a place that specializes in sedation dentistry, though they see non-phobic patients as well, and after talking with Willem about it last night, we decided to go with them… mostly because, in the interest of minimizing unnecessary repeat visits, they schedule a two-hour initial patient visit, which includes exam, cleaning, and full set of x-rays.  Willem’s schedule being what it is, and my anxiety being what it is, this just works better for us both.

So we have appointments for the 20th and 21st of January, respectively.  And I’m going to do my best to put that entirely out of my mind for as long as possible.


  1. A specialist in sedation dentistry who has that initial visit as a standard entry into the relationship–already says s/he’s going to understand your issues and deal with them from a whole different angle. And your children will see how to handle finding a new, better doctor!

  2. I think someone who specializes in sedation dentistry should be a much better fit for you. No matter how weird or illogical or inconvenient a phobia is, it’s hard wired. You know that – and you’ve done a lot to overcome it. Keep on truckin’, lady.

  3. good for you. skip the self-flagellation and move forward- you’re strong and capable and going to feel sooooo good on Sunday!

  4. Don’t worry, there are many people who have dentist phobia. The solution for you is visiting a sleep dentist. The extra money paid are worthed, you will have a relaxing, pain-free experience there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: