Childhood Fears

Why is it I’m still afraid of the dentist? or not so much afraid as really super unwilling to go. I don’t exactly fear pain, because I know it doesn’t hurt so much. My dentist is careful to numb me up. I also don’t worry a whole lot about cavities. I don’t really expect any. Yet today I have to get my teeth cleaned, and I’d ratherĀ  . . . . not. At all. Even a little bit.

Part of this, or probably all of this, has to do with the dentist I had as a child who had a separate waiting room for kids and parents (nowdays that would be a red flag, right?). All the kids were nervous, and often crying (this was a pediatric dentist). And apparently the assistants and doc didn’t like this nervousness and crying, because they would threaten us with spankings and of course, that this would just hurt if we didn’t stop. Now that latter may have been true, but it didn’t help, because of course it made us cry harder, and then made us fear that our crying would cause more pain for ourselves, which caused more fear and crying, and look! An ugly spiral.

Once I got a little bit older, I stopped going. It took me nearly 25 years to go again. And then I had my first root canal. That was my only cavity, and it was a doozy. (I’d been so paranoid about the dentist that I was ferocious about keeping my teeth clean). The root canal was kind of icky, but really, not all that bad. Nothing like all my surgeries and health invasions. Not enough to justify my knee-jerk adult dislike of going to the dentist. And yet, even knowing as an adult it wasn’t so bad, I still didn’t want to go. I make myself go because Adulting, but I really don’t like it.

So off I go, and it will be fine, and yet I just wish for nanobots that would take care of me without me hardly knowing. Or some sort of magical solution. How do you feel about the dentist?


About Diana Pharaoh Francis

A recovering academic, Diana Pharaoh Francis writes books of a fantastical, adventurous, and often romantic nature. She's owned by two corgis, spends much of her time herding children, and likes rocks, geocaching, knotting up yarn, and has a thing for 1800s England, especially the Victorians. Check out samples of just about everything on her website:


Childhood Fears — 15 Comments

  1. I was fine with the dentist in the small town in which I spent my grade school years. The dentist whom I had in middle school and college hurt me almost every time I went to him. If it wasn’t that the numbing shot needed its own numbing shot, it was that he scraped too hard near my gum line. Or that when he drilled, he almost always hit the nerve.

    Still can’t make myself go to the dentist unless I’m desperate. I was desperate last year, and I found out that one of my fillings had broken. How can a filling break, you ask? Well, I started so early with cavities that my back teeth have metal fillings. So she had to drill it out, clean it up, and then fill it with a different kind of filling.


    • My kids don’t mind the dentist because the two they’ve been to have actively done everything NOT to hurt them. Even when they are getting cavities filled. Unfortunately, it looks like I have a little cavity so I have to get it taken care of. Sigh.

  2. I’ve been mostly lucky with dentistry–my father was my first dentist, and he was very good. His hygienists were good. But the last emergency crown I needed in another city I had a dentist who did not want to give too much painkiller. While I admire not over-medicating, he had to give me more twice–which has left my jaw in a hyper-panic that has not calmed down two months later.

    So–I understand old fears.

  3. I have one of those mouths that dentists look at and say, after an indrawn breath, “I’m so sorry.” I have had excellent dentistry my whole life–but an inordinate amount, including two sets of braces, and so many root canals that I lost count after 12. Also a couple of implants. I learned to love classical music when I was a kid because the dentist always had WQXR (the local public radio classical station) on, and as long as it was Rachmaninoff no one was hurting me. But by the time I hit my teens I had relaxed a little.You might say I am a connoisseur of dentistry. There is going to be “discomfort”, but it’s generally well managed, and the most uncomfortable part of the whole process is generally keeping my mouth open wide for as long as that is required.

    I’m lucky that 1) my family and I have managed to be able to pay for all this dental work and 2) that I managed, blithering through life, to find skillful and considerate dentists. But would I rather be eating a hot fudge sundae and reading a good book, you betcha.

      • The sounds are the one part of the process I have a really hard time with, and I’m not sure that trying to listen to something through the drilling and scraping and bone-conduction would be possible. I attempt to close my eyes and think of England.

  4. I am quite all right with my six and a half teeth and no dentists, please. So what if I look like something that just crawled over the border from North Korea. My life, my teeth, my fear.

      • Nah, nerve is deader than a doornail, just half of the tooth broke off and the other half soldiers on.

        My dentist was a very nice woman, a family friend, in fact. She went ‘oh I see a cavity here and a spot there, but this is a fine solid tooth,’ hitting it with her hooky thing right on the exposed nerve. January 16th, 1986, my last visit to a dentist.

        I did try sometime around 2000. There was that dentist smell in the waiting room and by the time I caught my breath I had run something like five kilometers without knowing. At least it is good for my legs and waist LOL.

  5. I don’t remember this at all but according to my mother during one of my childhood visits the dentist apparently hurt me so I BIT HIM. Basically just clamped my teeth together on his finger. So there’s that.

    I hate dentists. I hate pain. I hate everything about this. I hear the sound of that drill and honestly if this was a torture chamber I’d be spilling things I DIDN’T know just for that sound to stop, please. never mind get any closer. The last time that I went it was a literal emergency because one of my back molars – heavily mortared – had simply given up the ghost and a quarter of it just SPLIT OFF and was hanging on by just enough not to break off completely which meant that every time I tripped over it it hurt – and so it was necessary to do something about it fast. What that turned out to be was an extraction because there was no saving THAT tooth any more (there wasn’t enough tooth left there to save) – and the last time I had a tooth out before that it was a nightmare on wheels so I basically existed in a state of freakout and pain for DAYS. And I should have probably gone back for upkeep since, but I just… haven’t. I”m sorry, I”m sure dentists are nice people, but they TERRIFY ME. I am told redheads have a lower threshold of pain and I was born a redhead and I think it might be true. And I”m utterly terrified of that chair and the drill noises that come with it.

    There. That’s my little secret. I’m a complete and utter wuss.

  6. I think I hated the dentist not because I had particularly bad ones, but because I had a lot of cavities as a child and also spent a lot of time at the orthodontist. So when I grew up, I was very negligent for a long time. Fortunately, when I developed a problem that required help, I found a wonderful dentist in DC. (If anyone needs a dentist there, I am more than glad to recommend her.) Since then, I have been very good about regular checkups and cleanings, if not as good about flossing as I should be. But yeah, adulting. I don’t like going to the doctor, either.

  7. I hate going to the doctor far more than going to the dentist. Probably because going to the dentist was routine growing up, and going to the doctor was only when something was WRONG.

    Actually, I kind of like the sensation of having my teeth cleaned. But I’m with everyone else about the sound of the drill. >_<

  8. After having witnessed both my parents suffering through the assorted deleterious health effects resulting from poor dental care, I’ve been fastidious about marching my family to the dentist regularly. We’re fortunate in that we have an amazing dentist. Starting the kids with checkups right from a young age has helped immensely.

    Of course, you can teach them to floss, and nag them to brush, and drag them for checkups and cleaning, but then they hit their late teens and decide they don’t have to do all that work. Until they go in for a checkup one day and discover they’ve developed a handful of narsty, hard-to-reach cavities that need to be filled. Suddenly flossing looks like a good idea again.

    But the (vividly-described) spectre of losing all their teeth, or ending up with abscesses that have eaten all the way through the jaw bone and into to their nasal cavities, has certainly provided incentive to maintain their dental health.

  9. Oh, I have bitten dentists. Also the other day I was tempted to scream, just to vent my stress. But the waiting room was empty — if it were full, I might really have done it.
    My previous dentist was the one I took my kids to. He was of the lavish-bribery school of dentistry, handing out goodies and little toys to them by the handful. It works like a charm.They adored it, and on one famous day, when I was taking my daughter in, my son burst into tears, saying, “I never get to go to the dentist!”