Ask the Gentle Dentist                                                                                                        January 2015

Legacy Planning and Dental Fear

Legacy Planning: At a recent event in Dallas I attended there was discussion on Legacy planning and how our lives can be used to positively affect others.  When looking at our life timeline none of us will know when we will take our last breath. The key is to make the best out of the time God has given us on this planet to make a difference.  No matter what decade of life we are in it is possible to make a positive influence on others.  This is possible by giving that smile to one who needs a smile, a helping hand to one who is in need or donating your time, talents or treasures to a worthy cause that interests you.  God gave us this life to be used and as we take our eyes off of ourselves and cast them on others there is a joy that will fill your heart.  This is something that I would like for you to consider as we go into 2015.  So GO and make a difference in another’s life and God will bless you for it.

Dental Fear:

This is a New Year.  At this time I like to bring up one issue that reins in many of the people we see—Dental Anxiety.  This is so prevalent that this topic that it is good to bring up as a New Year’s Resolution topic: Going to the dentist!

I would like to encourage those who are controlled by dental fear to read this article and to know that you are not alone.  There are many people who have this incapacity and have avoided dental visits for years.  Now is the time to take action so please take a step.

I was recently asked by a patient of ours who is a psychiatrist on how we treat those who have an incapacitating fear of the dentist. Our discussion went on to determine what is common with dental and other fears. She said it would be informative to post this in my monthly article and that it would be helpful to the readership.

I would like to start out by using Webster’s definition of fear: an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. When I interview new patients who have avoided dental visits for years this is just about what they describe. They have personalized situations that took place at previous times in their lives which I think would be helpful to investigate. My goal for this article is to open up this taboo area and to let those who suffer from dental pain and are still avoiding the dentist because of their fear know that you are not alone.

I will use this definition and see how it relates to what I see in our office:
an unpleasant often strong emotion: I can tell you that dental fear, like many fears are real from that persons perspective. Even if it seems silly or irrational to anyone else, it is real to that person’s experience. These emotions are very strong even to the point where it overrides the pain from a bad toothache.

Where do these strong emotions come from? From losing control to someone they can’t trust. I hear of horrible childhood experiences where the patient was overwhelmed by an insensitive and rude dentist. They either didn’t get numbed up or if they were it was inadequate to take care of their pain. I hear of situations where the child was slapped or hollered at. The majority of bad experiences took place when the individual was small and vulnerable. They were helpless and couldn’t do a thing about it except make a statement in their mind like “I will never put myself through anything like this again”. They continue through life with this thought in their mind every time they get a toothache, or reminded by a spouse that they need to get a dental cleaning.

anticipation or awareness of danger: It is all about control. In the dental chair each person willingly gives all control over to someone who has the potential to hurt them with sharp instruments. Since the mouth is a very personal and extremely sensitive area on the human body, trust must be gained by the patient before they are willing to put themselves at risk again. This trust is something earned by creating a relationship between the patient and the dental professional. The trust factor must be strongly established especially with persons who have been traumatized by bad experiences. Sometimes it means just talking on the first visit in a non-threatening environment like our consultation room. To remove the feeling of danger it may be necessary to use relaxing techniques:

  • one of my assistants Nelly or Nicole holding your hand or by
  • using video glasses that allow you to watch a movie while having your dental treatment done
  • Listening to music using our noise canceling headphones
  • nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to relax you
  • or even dream (sedation) dentistry which will allow you to have a lot of treatment in as little as one visit without memory of the visit and to be completely comfortable.
  • Say a prayer over them to allow God to fill them with peace.  He gives us peace so we just take advantage of what He provides.

We take these patients seriously and not judge their fear. If this above information describes you then I think it is important for the dentist you choose to go to to respect your feelings and fear and to not minimize it.  This fear  is real to all who have been through these bad experiences so we promise to not lecture or belittle those who have this constant burden. Fear can actually have control over oneself and it requires a group of compassionate professionals to work through it. These professionals may include psychologists, psychiatrists, dentists, hypnotists or physicians. If you are reading this and it describes you, then take action and make a call.

If you have any questions you can call our office just to talk at (586)247-3500, email at DrAntolak @  or visit our website at

You can also write Dr. Antolak, The Gentle Dentist at 15055 22 Mile #2, Shelby Township, MI 48315 for questions he can post in these Ask the Gentle Dentist  articles.