EDA Co-Founder, Ina Pockrass, shines some light on her own experience with dental anxiety
Heart racing, palms sweating, hands shaking, I sat in his dental chair for the first time. We had been dating only a few weeks, and I was petrified to tell the man who would become my husband that my greatest fear was going to the dentist.
He sat down, opened a tray of instruments and put on his gloves. I felt my cheeks flush with fear. He set the chair back, ready to take his first official look in my mouth. That’s when the tears started.
He immediately lifted the chair back up. “What’s up?” he sweetly asked. Then I spilled the beans. “I was afraid to tell you”, I started. Then I shared my tale of dental trauma: how, at age 8, after spending a night awake in excruciating pain, I was brought to a dentist who strapped me down to a chair, told me to be quiet, and performed a root canal on me with insufficient numbing. The pain had been so intense, I remembered, that I thought I was going to pass out.
And, I confessed that even though I knew I was supposed to take care of my teeth, and even though I was now an adult, I hadn’t actually been to a dentist in years, many years.
Because my husband is a compassionate and kind man, he listened. He didn’t judge or belittle me. He didn’t scold me for not taking better care of my teeth or tell me to “get over it.” Instead, he listened and listened until I was all talked out. Then he asked my permission to just look in my mouth and to take a couple of x-rays. I agreed.
I worried that once this nice handsome dentist learned my truth he wouldn’t love me anymore. But that didn’t happen. Tears of fear were replaced by tears of appreciation, appreciation for being accepted, fears and all.
We made a plan together. About a week later, he would clean my teeth, using nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to help me with the anxiety. A few weeks later, I agreed to let him repair a badly broken down tooth in the back of my mouth. He made me a temporary crown. More nitrous. More deep breathing. No more tears.
In less than a year, I was entrenched in building a dental office with him, an office that became the first green dental office in the country. Critical for me was that every person who came to that office would be treated respectfully, not belittled for any fears they might have. So we picked dental chairs that were really comfortable, added color therapy glasses and cozy blankets. We even hired a massage therapist to provide distracting foot massages during treatment, and made sure that the office smelled like a spa and not a dental office.
Now, 12 years later, my husband has worked on just about every tooth in my mouth. Now, I gladly show up for my teeth cleanings, every 3 months, no laughing gas required. My experience of the dentist has been transformed and I’m proud to be helping transform the experience of others. Looking back, I don’t who is more surprised that I work in dentistry, him or me.