Dentists really aren't scary, but how do I convince him of this?
March 21, 2017 11:28 AM   Subscribe

My husband has not been to the dentist in years. I just booked him an appointment and he FREAKED out. How best to tackle this?

My husband hasn't been to the Dentist for years. We're talking like 10 years. He is really, REALLY afraid of the dentist (apparently) for reasons he hasn't talked to me about. How do I best keep him calm in this situation?

I've been bugging him to make a dentist appointment for ages and he kept promising he would, but he always seemed to "forget". I got sick of hounding him so I took matters into my own hand and booked him an appointment. I didn't think it would be a super big deal but when I told him about it, he did not react how I was expecting.

I said "Hey honey, I've booked you a Dentist appointment for Monday"
and he said (panicked) "No you didn't? No you didn't... no you didn't, no you didn't" over and over again getting more and more panicky. So I said" are you nervous, are you ok? you sound angry?" and he just said "NO" and then he had to go.

I thought he was just being lazy in not booking an appointment for himself but it seems something deeper here is going on. I understand completely that phobia of the dentist is a thing. I mean, I don't exactly love it but I just lie there and deal with it and then it's over, no biggie.

So I am imagining my husband spiraling into a panic now and I want to reassure him as best as possible. I don't want to take the "tough love" approach and just ask him to suck it up and stop being a baby (which honestly, is kind of how I feel about it, even though that's unkind. I know this will likely be counter productive as far as he is concerned).... but I'm not sure how best to deal with the situation... I'm definitely going to go to the appointment with him but in the meantime, what should I do to keep him calm?

Do I just ignore it and not talk about it until Monday? Do I try to get him to talk me through his fears and his worries (which he seems REALLY reluctant to do). What kind of approach is best do you think? Are there any people here who can empathize with his situation? if so, what kind of approach works for you?

I know I'm going to have to talk to him about it sooner or later. He sounded very angry with me, but I wonder if this is sheer terror manifesting itself somehow. I don't know. help!
posted by JenThePro to Human Relations (51 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Now that you know he appears to have a phobia, I wouldn't push for him to attend that appointment he wasn't ready for. You definitely need to talk to him about it, but I'd lead with cancelling that and apologizing for doing it without asking him, not realizing it was bigger to him than most people. Without an appointment looming, he might find it easier to talk about.
posted by agregoli at 11:33 AM on March 21, 2017 [64 favorites]

I'm sure he understands the need for dental checkups. So the next step is to work sympathetically with him and get the dentist or your GP to prescribe an appropriate tranquilizer. If necessary find a dentist who will sedate him completely for the examination (not all dentists will do this).
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:34 AM on March 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

Dental fear is a thing and you can google it. First inform yourself. Then talk to your husband. Perhaps there's reason to apologize because you took matters into your hands. Perhaps it's already okay if you show your husband that you have some basic understanding of what his reaction might have been about. Perhaps you could then work together towards a plan how to tackle this. Also perhaps your dentist has special resources towards this issue.
posted by Namlit at 11:35 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

(Also, dentists really CAN be scary. My husband had very bad experiences as a child with a dentist who not only caused him pain, but gave him unnecessary procedures. Your husband could have very good reasons to mistrust the dentist)
posted by agregoli at 11:35 AM on March 21, 2017 [25 favorites]

Yes, this is what an extreme anxiety reaction sounds like. I cannot even have a conversation about this, it's just crying and cornered and angry all the way down. Call the dentist back and say you're gonna need some xanax in advance, maybe a couple, if you can even get him in there and that's not a definite, if they're going to charge you if he doesn't show.

You do not need to "talk to him" about this, that's not how phobia works. He can either go or not go. If he decides he wants you to be the person who does the setting up and he will go, fine. If he doesn't, then leave it alone.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:35 AM on March 21, 2017 [10 favorites]

Agree that you can't talk him out of being afraid. As others have suggested, is it possible he could take an Ativan or a Xanax or similar before his appointment? I have a friend who has pretty bad dental phobia and she says that works wonders. There are also dentists who specialize in patients with dental phobia -- mine does. Maybe it's worth seeking out one of those practitioners.
posted by holborne at 11:39 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just to expand on this point: I am not suggesting "talking to him" to talk him out of his phobia, which indeed won't work, but to find out whether you should apologize, or what else you ought to say to him.
posted by Namlit at 11:39 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

And yes, he may have excellent reason to be afraid, or just general trauma around dental experiences (which, for many of us over a certain age, is just known as "having been to the dentist" because various forms of assault used to be the norm), but either way you can't just be like "well have you tried not feeling like that?"

I would suggest simply a blanket apology. "I am really really sorry, do you want me to cancel it or do you want me to get a scrip for valium?" is likely the extent of the conversation he will be able to have with you right now.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:41 AM on March 21, 2017 [9 favorites]

Hm, well, your husband clearly has it bad and I don't know if he's going to go. Is it something you need him to do, like, is it gross?

My own dental aversion is milder - I mean, I go regularly, but I really, really hate it. What makes it tolerable is a nice big Valium, and for that I need a ride; to be sufficiently sedated I would be unsafe to drive. I take Lyft, but it sure would be nice to have a loved one take me.

Maybe if you don't have sedatives in the house, call the dentist and see about picking up a scrip for a couple of tablets - he'll need to take them a half hour or so before the appointment - and offer to drive?
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:43 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

There are "gentle" dentists that work with people like your husband. Cancel the appointment and call those kind of places.
Talk to your husband about how dental health is linked to overall health and that when problems exist, they can get worse (and more expensive and more painful) quickly.
posted by k8t at 11:44 AM on March 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have the same problem, and just going to a new dentist is really traumatic for me. (Never mind if it had been years since I saw one; that must be awful.) . At one point, I called a prospective dentist and said I wanted to meet without them even looking in my mouth just to discuss the fear problem. If they had not responded well, I would have moved on. At least this gave me some feeling of control over the situation and allowed me to choose a sympathetic practitioner.

You meant well, but you took away the chance for him to have some control over the situation.
posted by BibiRose at 11:44 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

cancel Monday's appointment. That's too soon and too abrupt for someone with this high level of dental anxiety.

Seek out a dentist that does sedation dentistry. He may freak out less if he realizes he doesn't have to stay conscious or aware of it.
posted by INFJ at 11:45 AM on March 21, 2017 [29 favorites]

I don't want to take the "tough love" approach and just ask him to suck it up and stop being a baby (which honestly, is kind of how I feel about it

He knows you feel that way about it. Your actions and your response to his unsurprising reaction have shown him that. The title of your question shows it. There is no way at this point that he will feel safe talking about his dental fears with you. Dental phobia is a real thing. If he (*he* not you) ever wants to go to a dentist, he (not you) can use the search term "sedation dentistry" to begin his (not yours) search for someone who gets it. That person is not you. Whether you are married to him or not, invasive implements going into his mouth are his business, not yours.

I'm definitely going to go to the appointment with him but in the meantime, what should I do to keep him calm?

No you're not going to the appointment with him. You're calling to cancel the appointment and apologizing to him.
posted by headnsouth at 11:45 AM on March 21, 2017 [48 favorites]

I know you care about him and you're worried that he hasn't gone to the dentist for a long time, but nagging him over and over and then making an appointment for him without asking is not great. He's as much of a grownup as you are, and can make his own health decisions. You're doing things for him that he's capable of doing for himself if he wants to, and doing them without him asking for your help - that's codependency, and it can create a lot of resentment in a relationship. I know because I used to do it myself, and my relationship suffered for it. I've stopped. My husband doesn't go to the doctor; I don't like it, but there isn't anything I can do about it.

You should cancel this appointment and apologize to him. You can also have a conversation about whether or not he has dentist-specific anxiety and ask if he wants your help in figuring out a plan. If he doesn't want your help, you can't force it upon him. This is his thing.
posted by something something at 11:47 AM on March 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

Some dentists are very good at dealing with trauma/anxiety, so it's worth asking around and finding someone known to be skilled at this and willing to offer Ativan or something else. Therapists can be great resources for this.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 11:49 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the advice about apologizing and cancelling the appointment.

Duly noted.... I feel properly chastised by internet strangers. Wonderful.

BUT - does anyone have any other advice about HOW I might talk to him about this once I have cancelled the appointment. He DOES need to go to the dentist and I clearly need to work with him on HOW we can achieve this.
posted by JenThePro at 11:50 AM on March 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

And, final comment: Dentists and their staff do horrible horrible things to people every day, they are scary and dangerous. Do not even try to get him through the door of one you haven't personally vetted at least once, and done due diligence on. Consider checking for police reports.

He knows it's bad not to go to the dentist. He does not need to be told this and will almost assuredly trigger a panic event. (The dentist, also, should be reminded that this is not a helpful line of discourse.) IF he wants your help with this, it needs to be judgement-free, no shame, no being trapped by an authority figure.

And be careful with the sedation dentistry; it's one of the things some of us are terrified of. I'm not even okay with them moving out of my line of sight, no way in hell I'm going to volunteer to be unable to defend myself. Maybe he wants that, maybe if you're in the room, maybe they have security cameras now, but don't assume.

But, again, this is a thing you are only going to be involved in IF he indicates he wants your help. He has to be in control.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:53 AM on March 21, 2017 [12 favorites]

We don't know what exactly his issue is, so its hard to know exactly how to approach it. The point is, pushing him isn't going to work well, so the best thing I can think of is cancelling, apologizing for taking charge of this without his input, and asking him if he wants to talk about it. You can express, nicely, that you are concerned about his health, but anything that is like, "you need to do this" isn't going to produce a honest and real conversation.
posted by agregoli at 11:54 AM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

I have the same phobia.

Any mention of it my my partner would make me feel ashamed, disgusting, and anxious.

My advice would be to let him know you are there to talk about it and support him however he would like you to, then drop it.

If he's like me he knows he needs to go and probably has googled dental phobia many, many times, and is working his way up to it.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 11:57 AM on March 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Hey, good on you for trying to help your husband with this.

If I were in your shoes, I would go into this conversation with an apology. Something like "I'm really sorry I made that appointment without consulting you first." Then, ask him what you can do to help. You know your husband best, but some people respond really well to hearing about someone else's irrational fears. Personally, I would find it comforting to hear, "I'm not afraid of the dentist, but remember when I was afraid of #THATTHING? Maybe some of what I learned then could help you now..."

Dental care would absolutely be non-negotiable for me, but from here on out I would focus on encouraging your husband to get a handle on his anxiety rather than on encouraging him to visit the dentist right away.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:01 PM on March 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

Agree about the necessity of cancelling and apologizing.

A possibly useful note: the higher-end the dentist, the more likely they are to be soothing and nonjudgmental. Dentistry is still largely a cash-up-front operation and it shows in office attitudes. I went to a $$$ dentist after probably ten years with only two cleanings (grad school life!) and they didn't have a word to say about my mouth full of catastrophe. I could probably get by with a commodity place now but I just found myself paying cash (they don't take new job's insurance) to go to them again.
posted by praemunire at 12:08 PM on March 21, 2017

Getting him to the dentist, and all that would entail, isn't emotional labor you need to take on.

If it's unpleasant to kiss him, just stop doing that. If it's unpleasant to eat meals across the table from him, stop doing that. If untreated dental infection could result in heart problems and you'd be liable for the ensuing medical expenses and loss of income, see what options exist in your state for limiting your liability. In any area where his non-action with regard to self care could impact you, find a way to set hard limits. Not to punish him, but to respect your own well-being.

In my case, with my partner's particular resistance to getting dental care in a situation where it was very needed, what worked was for me to say that I wasn't going to the dentist again until he'd taken care of his medical issue. He's a functional adult, so without any direction from me, he found professional support for working through the trauma and resistance, and scheduled his own dental appointments and surgery. He asked me to pick him up after the big procedure, and I did; I'm not arguing for cold, absolute detachment here. I'm also not suggesting random ultimatums.
posted by wonton endangerment at 12:08 PM on March 21, 2017 [10 favorites]

I think you should start by being clear in your own mind about how much this is him needing to go to the dentist and how much is you needing him to go to the dentist. To the extent that it's the latter, it is legitimate to say it is a deal breaker for you if someone doesn't get dental care-- or proper treatment for depression, or pretty much anything, really. But be upfront about what you are asking of him, and why.
posted by BibiRose at 12:10 PM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

There are dentists who specialize in patients with fear of dentists. I go to a practice like this, because I have a minor malformity in my jaw that makes imaging difficult and usually painful for me - they ended up doing a really good job mainly just because they have more experience dealing with patients who are stressed and anxious. They seem to have a lot of different tools and approaches (for example, they will give a tab of xanax before a procedure) and get very good reviews.

I don't agree that you should cancel the appointment right away. He may actually be able to process this a bit before Monday and might be able to manage to get himself to go - it just depends on the actual intensity of the phobia and his motivation to push past it. There are lots of levels to this kind of thing, and I don't think his reaction necessarily means he's in the worst of it.

Give him a few more days and don't say anything and then on Friday, just say: Do you want me to cancel the dentist appointment? I will if you're not ready but I'd like to help you make a plan - maybe that plan involves speaking to a dentist first with no exam or cleaning.

But honestly, if he has any rational way of talking about this, it really will be better to get to a dentist before he has a dental emergency that forces him there.
posted by vunder at 12:11 PM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would go with "OMG, I meant to be helpful, I didn't mean to upset you. Really, I was just trying to take something off the list. I'm guessing that the thing I can actually do to make your life easier is to call up and cancel that, is that right?" And it's up to him what to do about it after that point. People are saying to talk to him, but really the goal is to get him to talk so you can listen to him. There's nothing you can tell him - in his head, he knows dentists aren't inherently evil, he knows dental checkups are part of good health, so telling him again will only frustrate both of you. So get him talking, and be a listener. Knowing resources for dental phobias or sedation dentistry may one day be relevant, but right now the only information he wants from you is that you don't think he's a bad person or a failure just because he hasn't been to the dentist.
posted by aimedwander at 12:11 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have this phobia* and my husband has helped! So here's how we approached it. Three times because lately I had a gap and had my first appointment in over 4 years last week.

First time: I had to go because I had a huge, painful issue and it was a huge, awful mess to get there. I told my husband I didn't know what to do. He found a sedation dentist, he drove me there, they knocked me out, I woke up miserable and they had kind of caused a lot of bruising and things which as it turned out was actually more traumatic. Still, my husband was there every step of the way holding my hand and helping me. But the "just do it" model didn't actually position me to where I could manage it long-term.

Second time: We learned from the first time. My husband found a dentist where sedation was an option and who in fact did a lot of paediatric dentistry. Pro tip: Paediatric dentists often are more patient. Also there are dentists who specialize in fearful patients! He went in for a quick chat and to talk to the dentist about my particular fears and issues. After he vetted the dentist I went in just for an interview (he drove me) and the dentist spent a lot of time talking to me about how to help - headphones with music or (now it would be) podcasts, television, nitrous oxide in my case, a bag of herbs for smelling other things, and sunglasses to cut down on the glare. Frequent breaks. Lots of communication. This all helped a lot and I saw her for a good 9 years and it went great. Then she closed the practice. Segue to --

I got overwhelmed again. My husband found our family a new dentist and I ended up taking our kids, and at that appointment I told the dentist about my phobia and long break. He was great and so was his office team so I just got back on the wagon. I was able to do this one mostly by myself but my husband was reassuring and also vetted the dentist again. I will say some of the modern dentistry is way better even if the experience is still blah.

* In my case my abuser pulled out baby teeth when I was a child, deliberately and punitively, so this is a really deep-seated phobia BUT it was reinforced every. dentist. and orthodontist appointment I had. Because it is painful and you are in a chair and there are horrible noises etc. In early adulthood I tried to go to the dentist a few times and ended up throwing up on the way. Please respect that this can be a really big deal for people.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:19 PM on March 21, 2017 [40 favorites]

P.S. Just realized - maybe tell him about some of the stories here for what helps and let him know there are people who are terrified of the dentist, and dentists that really will help with that. Warmly and kindly. It may take him some time.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:21 PM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm going to go against the grain here and say that you should try to talk to him about the phobia. Obviously you can't cure the phobia by talking, but think of it kind of like CBT - you're trying to understand the root cause of his phobia and figure out ways he can work through it. I say this because I am someone who has been somewhat talked out of a dental phobia by a spouse. (My spouse happens to be a CBT therapist, but still...)

He obviously has a deeply-held belief that a visit to the dentist will result in severe pain. Why? I'm guessing he didn't just watch Marathon Man (trigger warning: bad dentistry) a bunch of times when he was a kid. He probably had a dentist who really fucked him up at some point. If you can figure out what happened, that will help you figure out how to make him realize that it won't happen again. As with any trauma, proceed with caution, but since this is your husband, presumably you're comfortable talking about difficult subjects with each other.

Then, the key thing is to make sure whatever happened (even if it's just something silly like "I had a cavity and the drill hurt") doesn't happen again. Is this your dentist? If so, you can reassure him that you go to this person every six months, and he doesn't hurt you. Maybe bring him along to one of your appointments to see that modern dentists are actually quite considerate and gentle.

This is a hunch on my part, but based on my experience, not going to the dentist is self-reinforcing. You don't go to the dentist for a while, and then you become self-conscious about not having been to the dentist, so you delay even longer. If he's like me, he's probably pretty embarrassed about the condition of his mouth, and he's afraid that the dentist is going to judge him about that. This, like a lot of anxiety issues, is a mistaken assumption. My teeth aren't, like, Shane MacGowan bad, but there's a lot I need done, and I was afraid to hear a professional say that. But my dentist didn't care. He was just like "eh, it happens". The professional's job is to fix the situation, not to pass judgment.

One stupid little thing that really helped me: my dentist is roughly the same age as me, and he played football at my alma mater, which is a huge football school. He was one of my favorite players while I was an undergrad. That pre-existing conception of him as a person made it hard to fit my pre-existing conception of dentists. "Touchdown Chad can't be a bad guy!" This is a long shot, but if you can find a dentist that your husband somehow knows already in a different context (most likely, as a friend of the family or something), that might make it easier.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:21 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As vunder alluded to, your husband shouldn't want to wait until it's a dental emergency that forces him to get over his dentist fear.

That's what happened to me. I cracked a tooth, there was nerve damage and I was in a tremendous amount of pain that I put up with until it was too much for me to ignore. I ended my years-long boycott of dentists offices by calling up my wife's dentist, getting a walk-in appointment that day, and committing to four more appointments needed for the various stages of getting my tooth crowned.
posted by emelenjr at 12:22 PM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

So, I agree with the couple of people who have said that you need to let it go and stop making it your responsibility, but I will say that I didn't go to the dentist for upwards of 15 years and finally ended up going back because I had to have a root canal (this was a little over a year ago). Now I go for regular maintenance.

I stopped going because the time I went 15 years before, I wasn't properly anesthetized for a filling and it hurt a lot. What I realized, and what makes me okay going now, is that I'm in charge and I don't have to put up with pain. I can get up and walk out at any time. I am very clear with the people who work on my teeth when I need more pain medication and they're good at listening and responding well, or I wouldn't be going there. It's important to understand that you're in charge, and it's not that you're just being overly sensitive or whatever. You do not owe it to anybody to sit there and be in pain.

Additionally, the reason I hadn't gone for so long is because I barely went as a child and didn't have this cultural sense that it was Super Important. I come from a fairly poor background and we just didn't do the dentist, except once or twice, and enh, I was always fine until this root canal. I am basically sold on routine care at this point, but it took a lot of pain to get me there. And I'm still sometimes kind of baffled at how people act like routine dental care is a totally normal thing that everyone does.
posted by hought20 at 12:24 PM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am your husband. I still have not been to the dentist in *mumbles* but I think I would only approach it with exposure therapy (under the guidance of a therapist, not a spouse). For medical reasons I don't think I can be fully sedated. Do you think he would go with you to your appointments? Sitting in the waiting room the first time, then sitting with you during the cleaning the next time (if that's allowed), then during the exam (same). With no pressure to make an appointment for himself.

Think of it like fear of flying. You wouldn't just buy a plane ticket and send him off (I know you've acknowledged this). I would find a therapist who specializes in phobias. He has to want to overcome this. This isn't like HIV testing, where you're directly impacted by his inaction, so let him do it at his own pace, while being supportive.
posted by AFABulous at 12:30 PM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you earnestly tried to be helpful and didn't realize it would cause such anxiety and I think you're a good partner and trying to do the right thing, so props.

How did you find this particular dentist? Do you think you can arrange for a consultation with a dentist so your husband can talk to the dentist in an office (like an office with a desk and a computer, not the chair where procedures take place) about what he can expect, how the dentist works with people who have not been to the dentist in a while, options for people with anxiety, etc. Maybe make a list of a few dentists who may be open to such a thing so your husband can almost interview them and choose who he would like to see. I think part of anxiety comes from fear of losing control and choosing what dentist and getting to ask them questions ahead of time will help empower your husband.

Also, not to start a chat thing but I don't think this is a productive statement: "Dentists and their staff do horrible horrible things to people every day, they are scary and dangerous. Do not even try to get him through the door of one you haven't personally vetted at least once, and done due diligence on. Consider checking for police reports." My father is a dentist so I have a fair amount of righteous hashtag-not-all-dentists about this but that seems unnecessary in the absence of data indicating that somehow dentists are more dangerous than other health care providers which is unlikely to be helpful to the OP.
posted by kat518 at 12:36 PM on March 21, 2017 [41 favorites]

Everyone seems to be focusing on your husband's reaction and how to deal with his fear, but nobody here seems to be addressing the fact that you booked an appointment for him in the first place without even consulting him!

He is not a child (presumably) and he is capable of booking his own doctor's appointments. Like any adult, he needs to feel in control of his body and what happens to it, and the simplest way for him to feel in control is for him to actually be in control.

Reassure him on this point: you will not make no further appointments for him unless he asks you to, or at least gives you permission to, and he won't get any flack for not keeping the one you made for him (in fact, you should cancel—not because he's freaking out, but because you shouldn't have made it to begin with).

Now obviously he's apprehensive about the dentist specifically, which you can tell because of his procrastination and the way he reacted. Once you have regained his trust, the two of you can work on his fear together, since he can hopefully admit that, at least in theory, one does need to go to the dentist. But he has to be able to get there at a pace that is comfortable for him.
posted by kindall at 12:48 PM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

My husband was also dentist phobic. I spoke with him at length about it in a compassionate way and we agreed that it was good that he go. But, I think we were successful with getting over the phobia because I also spoke at length with my dentist and her assistant about it and they were great in being gentle, transparent, offering a valium pill for the visit(s) to calm anxiety, and taking it very slow. He felt safe there and slowly, but surely, his anxiety lessened to the point where he could get not only a general check-up, but root scaling, several fillings, a root canal, and old crowns replaced. He has no anxiety about any of it now. It was a slow process, but the fact that they were ready to meet him where he was and take things very, very slow and be gentle throughout helped him get over it.

You may also want to do some research on dentists who specialize in phobic patients and also sedation dentistry where they put the patient to sleep so that there's no conscious experience of the treatment.
posted by quince at 12:58 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have had countless negative experiences with dentists.

I highly recommend looking into Silver Diamine Fluoride. It's new in the US, but cheap and effective. If you can find a dentist that offers it and your husband has cavities, they may not even need to drill.

Silver Diamine Fluoride. It's a game-changer.
posted by aniola at 1:00 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

BUT - does anyone have any other advice about HOW I might talk to him about this once I have cancelled the appointment. He DOES need to go to the dentist and I clearly need to work with him on HOW we can achieve this.

You don't need to cancel Monday. You can go with your husband to that first appointment, and make sure he knows it's a consultation only. You can call in advance to let the dentist know this--nothing sharp, maybe nothing more than a conversation. In some instances, just talking to a dentist can allay fears enough to get someone into a chair for an exam. And, if all else fails, your dentist can tell your husband about anxiety-relieving measures (my dentist advertises as being for "dental chickens," and gives prescriptions for Xanax in addition to using laughing gas and other sedation as needed).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:06 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I also have a truly exquisite fear of the dentist. In highschool I had a really infected tooth and the dentist didnt wait for the Novocaine to hit before he started drilling. I literally have nightmares and wake up in a cold sweat about it. I agree that you should apologize and cancel the appointment, but maybe don't let the matter drop. It kind of depends on how you and your husband are, but I'd wait a few weeks for things to calm down. Tell him you didn't realize how serious it was for him. Maybe mention you're worried about his health, but you're willing to go at his pace. Maybe even look up pain free laser dentists in his area. You have to really come at it from a nonjudgmental respectful place. My husband also initially acted like I was overreacting and being silly. Coincidentally, he has never had a cavity in his life.

My husband was able to help me through it REALLY slowly. We pay through the nose and it's worth every penny. My dentist knows how I freak out and walks me though what she'll do. If it's in the back of my mouth (I have a strong gag reflex) she makes sure I have valium. I hate to say this, but if you're lucky he'll have serious tooth pain and the matter can be forced. I know that's the opposite of what everyone else is saying and I don't wish pain on anyone, but that's what it took to get me through the door. My husband called ahead and basically told them I was freaking out and I had as close to a good experience at the dentist as you can have. Any dentist he goes to needs to know what's up with him and needs to be sensitive to it. You might want to go with him if that will make him more comfortable. Tooth pain is the worst and couple that with not being able to move and having someone over top of you having power over you? It's really not a suck it up situation. It's a legitimate reason to be afraid. But it's not a legitimate reason to not get necessary healthcare.
posted by Bistyfrass at 1:13 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This thread ... what is it with husbands and emotional dentist labor?

I had to do this too. I found a good dentist through a friend who is a mom, and then made an appt for my husband. Nthing the recommendation for a pediatric specialist (and probably sedation, though I don't have any experience there).

My spouse is more stubborn than phobic, and had no immediate dental problems. So he "needed" me to be the parent figure who "made" him go, or he wasn't going to go ... and that is what worked in my relationship. I won't tell you how yours works, but I won't necessarily say you need to cancel either, or that it was a mistake to make the appt. Just recognize that this is emotional labor more than anything, and approach it thusly.

My spouse really only needed that push once, turned out he had no problems after that and has even made his own appointments.
posted by Dashy at 1:46 PM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

Dental avoidance can indeed get kind of complicated psychically, as shame piles on and becomes more important than whatever created the behaviour in the first place.

The dental profession has made great advances in helping patients with these issues. I went through this myself, unfortunately to the point where finally something hurt enough that I had to find a dentist at once. They were really really compassionate and caring to me, and I was in bad shape.
posted by thelonius at 1:47 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, dental anxiety is the perfect storm of avoidance and shame going up as things get worse-- goes from avoiding cleanings (ugh) to avoiding fillings (double ugh) to avoiding root canals (you get the idea) to avoiding extractions or worse (!).

I would encourage you not to try to armchair-CBT him out of this (unless you're trained in it). I think the most you can do at this point, unfortunately, is to find information on dental practices who specialize in highly avoidant patients, and provide that information to him. (Or therapists who specialize in medical phobias.) Any pushing or attempts to talk it out are only going to make it worse.

I'm a husband who, admittedly, does better with some amount of nagging (sorry hon) but this isn't an appropriate application of that technique I think.
posted by supercres at 2:20 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Here is how I would approach it.

1. Apologise to your husband and in the same breath, immediately let him know you've cancelled the appointment.

2. Explain that you are going to make a dental appointment for yourself with a dentist who offers sedation, and will keep trying until you find a really gentle and compassionate one.

3. Explain to him that you'll then make an appointment for him where he does nothing but meet the dentist.

4. Agree you'll go from there making a decision about the next steps, if any.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:36 PM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

One of the things I learned from taking a break from dentist visits and then suddenly needing to go back after *mumble* years is that there have been a lot of advancements in the procedures and tools dentists use. That made me realize that it's not so bad to sit in the chair now, because it's not like it was in the past. Sure, there's some scraping and high-pitched noises, but I can bring headphones and listen to music to distract myself. That's how I got through all the various stages of having a crown placed on my busted tooth. That and Vicodin.
posted by emelenjr at 3:29 PM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have dental phobia after having a series of really horrible dental events (things like nerves being severed...). Phobias are not rational- so talking about it like it is isn't going to help. Ask him to look up sedation dentistry- tell him he really can just be unconscious and wake up to everything being completely over. If he thinks he can deal with that then find one that works with extremely anxious patients. It is way more expensive, but at least for me it is the only way I can do it.
posted by KMoney at 7:41 PM on March 21, 2017

I am similar to your husband, although it sounds like less severe in my phobia of it. In my case, because I had a TON of very painful work done as a kid. I cry pretty much every time I go to the dentist (they are VERY nice about it). Things I would suggest that have helped me:

Find someone who specializes in anxious patients. The dentist I am with now is really nice about my sometimes over-the-top emotion in their office, and will even bring in an extra hygienist to hold my hand if I'm really upset during a procedure. They also prescribe Valium for me to take before my visits. So, talk to your husband about how it's okay to go and be upset and dentists have seen it all (even if it can be embarrassing, personally I would never want my spouse there) -- the important thing is to show up. Similar to any unpleasant doctor's visit -- I also hate having my blood drawn, but if the doctor says it is necessary, I freak out and still get my blood drawn and apologize to the technician for the horrible look on my face. :) If it is bad enough, your husband could consider working with a therapist, but in my case, it was enough to find someone who is very sympathetic and experienced with working with anxious patients, and then just letting myself freak out if I need to -- but do the freaking out in the dentist's office, where I am still getting the care I need.

RE: Making the appointment for your husband -- Everyone's relationship works differently and I feel like there is a lot of over-the-top judgement above. Plenty of people make routine appointments for their spouse and it is not a big deal at all. Also, I think many (most?) romantic partners care about their partner's health and it's important for reasons other than potential financial loss or whatever. Some people are really into the whole everyone's-an-adult-and-responsible-for-themselves thing, and that is cool, but also it's not really for everyone, especially those in long-term marriages/committed relationships. For some of us, the whole point of marriage is that we're not in it alone anymore! Obviously in this case just making the appointment wasn't the right call, but in the future (with permission) it could actually be helpful and no big deal. Just depends on every couple's particular deal, and I don't think it's necessary to get all judge-y about it.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:58 PM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

A friend of mine was a stay at home mom then decided to become a dentist and she is AMAZING.* She did a form of exposure therapy with her phobic patients.

If he can do this with a Valium in his system, even better. Make an early morning appointment. Avoid excessive caffeine, sugar or anything else that makes one jumpy. If he can get in a bit of aerobic exercise to push some endorphins, do it. Even a walk beforehand to relax the mind.

Go to the dentist with an understanding that he will only sit in the chair and talk to the dentist. Nobody will touch his mouth. Maybe he'll agree to a panoramic xray. But no fingers or tools in his mouth. If he is feeling comfortable, the dentist can put some numbing gel on so he can see how completely numb he will get. Then the dentist can discuss sedation and Valium, etc. and everyone gets ice cream or a fancy coffee then goes home (you have to include a treat).

Debrief about anticipated fear versus real fear and how even the realest, highest level of fear was actually survivable. Having an actual, "that was totally okay" point of reference can really help some people move from catastrophic terror to something more reality-based.

* I love her like a sister and she is gentle and painfree but I STILL take half a Xanax before I go because I know it works and I can crank my music and not listen to those terrible dentist noises and it's all good.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:10 AM on March 22, 2017

I have a pretty serious dental phobia. I cannot sit in a dentist's chair without shaking violently and crying. This isn't something I decide to do, or to feel. I swear I can do my damndest to get myself under control, but nothing I can do stops the shaking-and-crying thing. Logically I know that everything is fine, but my body won't listen.

To make matters more complicated and snowflakey:
1. I have a needle problem as well, where injecting anything into me causes fainting if I'm not tipped upside-down beforehand.
2. Laughing gas doesn't make me happy, it makes me panic more.
3. The regular local anesthetic contains epinephrine, which also makes my panic worse.

Delicate little flower, right?

So as you can expect, I didn't go to the dentist for a long time (though it was more an insurance issue than a fear one) and when I finally was able to, I needed several fillings.

I found a great guy (in New York) who sorted me with two things.

To address point #3, about the epinephrine, he selected another anesthetic without it - this type doesn't last quite as long, but it doesn't have the heart-rattling side effect I hate so much. This is really important for phobic patients, please make sure whatever dentist he sees knows this and can do this!

To address point #1, he put me upside-down to inject the anesthetic, and then left me for a few minutes to relax after.

To address the main, shaking and crying problem, I got a little 2mg valium pill to take about an hour before showing up at the office. That tiny little thing, I noticed no real side effects other than getting a tad giggly for a few minutes as it took effect, and rather wanting a nap after the whole thing was done. Meanwhile, no shaking, no crying, no panicking. Everything was just... fine. I wasn't exactly super comfortable (as one tends not to be while dental work is being done) but I had what I assume is a normal, non-phobic ability to just zone out and accept what was happening until it was done.

TL;DR: I'm a total basket case, and was totally fixed with epinephrine-free anesthetic, and some valium
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 4:21 AM on March 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone who responded with constructive advice, I really appreciated it, there was lots of excellent information to take away from this thread.... as well as some people who obviously meant well, but overreacted to the situation somewhat.

I called my husband yesterday afternoon and let him know how sorry I was for overstepping boundaries and that I would cancel the appointment for him and he said:

"No, no... I'm just being a big baby"

We're going to have a more in-depth chat about it tonight (we were both out yesterday and I was in bed when he got home) but his panic really stemmed from the fact he hasn't been in many years and is a bit worried about what he will have to have done, and it wouldn't have been such an issue if he'd just "kept up with going" ... so it's a positive and hopefully the experience on Monday won't be horrific!
posted by JenThePro at 7:05 AM on March 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Dentists are health care providers who deal with phobias like these with great regularity, so a good dentist is willing to work with patients who feel nervous. I think it would be completely fine for you to call ahead and mention that any sort of shaming/scolding approach will be counterproductive (including from the staff/hygienists) and possibly detrimental to your husband's oral (and mental) health.

Some people do this to be "helpful", and do not understand that it can be toxic. Asking them to be careful about how they talk to your husband is completely fine.

When I haven't been to the dentist in a long time, the fear lurking at the back of my mind is that they will find a bunch of cavities. In case this is part of your husband's anxiety, it is also fair to ask the dentist to react to any problems as if they are normal, rather than something your husband has done wrong.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:09 AM on March 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Virtual Reality simulations are being used to treat dental phobias. Perhaps you can find a therapist who is using this technique.
posted by Sophont at 12:59 PM on March 22, 2017

I suggest a valium, which the dentist will prescribe, ensuring there is no wait to be seen at the office when he shows up, and taking an ipod and headphones to use in the chair. Good luck to you both.
posted by perrouno at 3:14 PM on March 22, 2017

Best answer: This is a real late reply, but I also waited a long time, due to a variety of circumstances, and then felt very concerned about not only what would be found, but also very much about how the dentist would talk to me. And some of that was just the cycle described by others above, but also some shaming I received from prior dentists. I was really shocked that my new dentist was totally unfazed. Later on after the relationship was more established my dentist did start to broach some suggestions for further care that would be helpful to address. I now think it is totally reasonable to expect that level of professionalism and I would encourage the idea that you should find a different dentist if they don't live up to those standards. Good luck, I hope he has a good experience.
posted by dawg-proud at 7:05 PM on March 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

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