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Fillings of anxiety

A dental technician assigned to the 48th Dental Squadron prepares for a routine teeth cleaning at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Feb. 6, 2020. The 48th DS mission is to provide excellent, best-value oral health for readiness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessi Monte)

A dental technician assigned to the 48th Dental Squadron prepares for a routine teeth cleaning at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Feb. 6, 2020. The 48th DS mission is to provide excellent, best-value oral health for readiness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessi Monte)

Capt. Jessica K. Smith, a general dentist assigned to the 48th Dental Squadron, sits in her treatment room at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Jan. 30, 2020. The 48th DS mission is to provide excellent, best-value oral health for readiness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessi Monte)

Capt. Jessica K. Smith, a general dentist assigned to the 48th Dental Squadron, sits in her treatment room at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Jan. 30, 2020. The 48th DS mission is to provide excellent, best-value oral health for readiness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessi Monte)

A dental technician assigned to a 48th Dental Squadron prepares instruments for the next appointment at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Jan. 30, 2020. The 48th DS mission is to provide excellent, best-value oral health for readiness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessi Monte)

A dental technician assigned to a 48th Dental Squadron prepares instruments for the next appointment at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Jan. 30, 2020. The 48th DS mission is to provide excellent, best-value oral health for readiness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessi Monte)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England – It was a sleepless night. My hands are sweaty on the steering wheel as I pull into the parking lot. I’m dreading this moment. The pit in my stomach feels like it’s consuming me. I try to hold back the tears that are welling up in my eyes. I’m here for a simple examination but that feeling of imminent doom looms heavy in the air around me.

Dentophobia, or fear of the dentist, has been a struggle for me my whole life. So much so that I avoided going for over 15 years. It’s the total loss of personal control that really gets me. The constant fear of sudden pain keeps me on high alert. I can’t see what’s going on. I can’t stop the needle. I feel like I’m choking on something or I’m going to choke.

My past encounters with private practice dentists have been like an emotionless assembly line. Get in, get done, get out, and quit being a baby. I didn’t want to go through it again.

My initial exam with a military dentist revealed I would need four root canals and several fillings. The thought of having numerous appointments and spending hours upon hours in the dental chair was something from my worst nightmares.

When Capt. Jessica K. Smith, a general dentist with the 48th Dental Squadron, entered the exam room I immediately felt my panic rising despite her warm greeting and friendly smile.

She was patient with me even though it was obvious by my demeanor that she was the last person I wanted to be talking to. Through a veil of tears, my trembling voice competed with the sound of my pounding heart as I tried to explain my extreme anxiety over the whole ordeal.

Dr. Smith did not belittle me or make me feel ashamed about my state of mind. It didn’t take long for me to realize that she was not my enemy. More than anything, I was angry at myself for allowing my intense fear to prevent me from getting the consistent care I needed over the years.

We discussed the issues that needed to be dealt with, she offered me options and explained all the pros and cons of each one. I felt I retained a measure of authority over my situation because she allowed me to have a voice in my own treatment plan.

I asked her how she manages patients like me, and she said she takes it as a challenge, and hopes they realize that it wasn’t as bad as they thought it was going to be by the end of their appointment.

I’ve gotten some of the most genuine and sympathetic medical care since I’ve joined the Air Force and my dental experience is no exception. I would urge anyone who is battling with dentophobia to voice your concerns. You do have a choice and you do have control. As an Airman, your dental care is necessary, but it doesn’t have to be a necessary evil.