dental health

High anxiety (in the dentist’s chair)

dentist officeI usually try to avoid the word “hate”—there’s enough hate in the world already, no need to add to the bad energy. Yeah, I’m the one on social media who really, really tries to promote what I love rather than gripe about what I … um … don’t love.

But I’m just gonna say it: I hate going to the dentist. Nothing makes me more nauseous than the idea of sitting in that chair. Nothing.

Well, other than being told I need to have a major dental procedure done.

I’m a total wuss when it comes to pain. When the dentist is in there poking around or trying to do a really minor repair (“I think we can do this without Novocaine, don’t you…?”), I try to breathe and tell myself, “I’ve had two babies—this can’t be worse than childbirth!”

In recent years, my anxiety in the dentist’s chair has turned to full-blown panic attacks: it feels like my airway is collapsing, and of course I start flailing around and spitting out instruments, hands, and anything else in an effort to breathe freely again. Not helpful.

dental healthImagine my dismay when on a recent visit that was to involve a few simple touch-ups to some fillings, I was told that I had a really strange cavity below the gumline, and I had better trot off and have a root canal. As in NOW.

My first thought was, do they give general anesthesia for that? ‘Cause yes, please sign me up for that version.

So off to the endodontist I went, me and my really bad attitude.

And then a miracle happened.

The endodontist put the brakes on.

Let’s think about this, he said. I can do this root canal, but it’s a tricky one. You’re one of the approximately 20% who has two roots in a tooth that should have just one. I don’t normally guarantee the success of this procedure, and I’d be even less inclined to do it in your case. I think in a few months, you’d need to have an extraction anyway, so how about we figure out whether your time and money wouldn’t be better spent another way? I’m going to refer you to a periodontist for his opinion….

I walked out of his office like I was walking on air, like a huge burden had been lifted.

I still have a tooth that hurts—and now that I know the hole is there, it seems it hurts more than before. I still don’t know what is going to happen. I will likely still need a major dental procedure.

And I’d been given a gift, a really big one.

As an Integrative Nutrition® health coach, I definitely tend toward the woo side of things: I will choose an alternative modality over a conventional medical one any day, and as a rule, that has served me extremely well.

The one area of my health in which I have not made this shift has been my oral health, and I’m honestly not sure why that is.

This endodontist gave me the gift of time—time to get curious about why I let the extremely conventional dentist exclude me from decisions about my health, why I let a reactive form of treatment take over—and of autonomy—let’s look at all our options, then do what we agree is best or come to the conclusion that we may have to agree to disagree…agreeably.

I believe that there’s a place at the healthcare table for all practitioners. Unlike a lot of people who fall on the far woo side of the spectrum, I recognize that the conventional Western medical model claims a seat there, and there are many, many times that it will win the day, mostly in the treatment of emergencies and in the treatment (but not prevention) of advanced disease.

As a total aside, how weird is it that we consider the Western medical model the conventional one although many—if not most—of the alternative practices have much deeper roots in tradition? It’s sort of like conventionally grown produce: organic food is now labeled as such even though in reality, it is grown using a much older model….

toothbrushSo I’m spending my time between referred appointments to make a few appointments of my own with a more holistic practitioner and to dig into some research about the prevention of tooth and gum disease beyond regular brushing and flossing and fluoride and dental appointments.

And yes, that is one of those rabbit holes the interwebs created. (BTW, did you know that hormone shifts during peri/menopause can affect the tone of our airways? Maybe that’s why I feel like I can’t breathe when I’m flat on my back and why I suddenly snore much more than I used to? I wonder whether that is something dentists are taught?)

While I don’t believe everything Dr. Google tells me, there is a certain satisfaction in searching for something and seeing that I’m not the first and only one to think about it.

The whole experience has made me realize that perhaps it’s time to break up with my dentist and find one who won’t dismiss my concerns out of hand, who has some training in (or at least some openness to) preventive measures that don’t involve products on which there is money to be made, who brings me into the conversation about my health, and who doesn’t wait for a problem to surface before reacting in a way that heightens my already high anxiety.

I wonder whether my horrible anxiety around dentists will be alleviated by bringing that part of my healthcare more in line with my values. I’m not sure I’ll ever love a dentist … and I’m open to the possibility.

Leave me a comment about what’s important to you in a dentist—because the health of our teeth is intimately tied to our general health and well-being!


  1. Carrie

    I get the anxiety aspect. I too, have it! Love my dentist as he understands and accommodates. They have weighted blankets to ease stress, paraffin wax hand dip, a massage therapist to rub hands and feet during cleaning or procedures, music and murals painted on ceiling. The Dental Spa and Dr Sasaki have been my gift from God. Good luck on your journey – hope you find what you need to ease anxiety too. It’s real. “Anxious” to hear what you discover

    1. Elizabeth Baker

      Hahaha—I love your humor, Carrie. Thx for the recommendation—sounds like a step (or two or three) beyond what I’ve found so far!

  2. Love this Liza! I’d be curious to know who you find who’s willing to take a more holistic approach to dentistry!

  3. Laura Seligman

    Try Dr. Robert Stevenson. That’s who my periodentist recommended
    when I moved back to town. I have tricky teeth as well.

    Dr. Elayne Evans has done most of my root canals. I trust her a lot.

    1. Elizabeth Baker

      Thx for the recommendation!

  4. In some of my crunchy readings, I’ve come across the term “holistic dentist”. Of course, there isn’t one in my entire state, but it might be worth lookin into to see if there is one near you. A holistic dentist is basically a naturopathic doctor for your teeth!
    I’m glad your second opinion has bought you some time. Wishing you the best of luck no matter which course of action is necessary down the road.
    In the meantime, clove essential oil is a great one to use if your tooth is hurting you. Make sure to choose a brand that is labeled approved for internal consumption and dilute 1 drop of clove oil in 1tsp of olive oil (or coconut oil). If you’d like it stronger, as 1 drop at a time of clove and test after each drop until you find the ratio that is best for you.
    Another option to look into for oral health is oil pulling and activated charcoal.

    1. Elizabeth Baker

      Thanks, Virginia! I have since visited a holistic dentist and gotten a second opinion and a second referral to an endodontist. Wait, is that 2 referrals or 4? Anyway, this holistic dentist also recommended clove oil and a new toothpaste—I have super sensitive teeth, and most sensitive tooth toothpastes have SLS, which I seem to have a reaction to. Much happier as I wait for the story to unfold….

  5. Judy Olinick

    Best wishes for the easiest possible resolution Liza!

    Judy Olinick

  6. Tom

    I recently had a wisdom tooth pulled after putting if off for 30 years…and of course was apprehensive. My provider used laughing gas as an analgesic, which I had never had before. It was a like a 3-beer buzz that wore off way too fast, tooth was pulled with no problem, and I was outta there in less than an hour. Even the sound of the crunch as it was yanked was a bit amusing, so it seemed to work. Two days later my phantom tooth hurt but the pain couldn’t be linked to the procedure. Wish I had done it years earlier…Hope everything works out for you…two roots on one tooth? Dang…

    1. Elizabeth Baker

      Tommy, you always make me laugh out loud! The crunch was amusing? I had flashbacks to hearing myself getting an episiotomy during which I was thinking, “Wow, that should hurt like hell.”

  7. Edie Bourque

    Two words – Fentany, versed ❤️

    1. Elizabeth Baker

      Ooo! Do dentists use that, too? Or just those colonoscopy types? 😀

  8. Marine Yanikian-Sutton

    I think it will. I think when action alligns with values the universe zings and all becomes right with the world. Who knows, the right dentist may be just around the corner. 😉

  9. Look for a laser dentist. My anxiety is mainly because I have periodontal disease and most dentists I’ve dealt with have been okay but not really empathetic to my low pain tolerance.

    So I met a laser dentist they use gentle laser and light beams to clean our decay, clean below the gums. Do cavities and more. I’m not going to say I didn’t feel a thing but it was very relaxing and did not hurt at all they only used a gum number too.

    1. Elizabeth Baker

      Interesting—I haven’t heard of that!

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