Overcoming Dental Phobia

Sensible, gentle care ends anxiety and fear.

When Josiane Swartz was a 12-year-old girl in France, her mother took her to the dentist to have her first cavity repaired. She had no idea what that involved. There was nothing to numb her mouth and gums. She was terrified, and her mother and the dentist were stern and rough with her. The experience scarred her into adulthood.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

Josiane enjoys photography as a hobby.

“My mom was next to me, next to the chair. I was already fearful because I did not know what was going to happen,” elaborates Josiane. “When the dentist started drilling, I totally freaked out. There were two people telling me, Sit down! Don’t move! Stop crying! The dentist was not at all compassionate.
“That was absolutely the worst experience, and I think it set me up for the course I took later of not going to the dentist. I decided to just brush my teeth and hope for the best.”
Josiane’s fear of dentists came back to haunt her. Without regular checkups to catch small issues with her teeth, they turned into larger issues. When she finally broke down and saw a dentist, she was told she needed more than fillings to fix her problems.
“I was avoiding dentists because of my experience, so dental care was not on my list of priorities,” she confirms. “When I went, I was told I had a lot of cavities and needed several root canals.
“I had trouble finding the right dentist. For me, that meant a dentist who not only knows what he’s doing, but is also honest and doesn’t do what’s not needed.
“I had been going to a dentist I wasn’t completely happy with when my girlfriend said, Why don’t you go to my dentist? She said she’d been going to him for years, and he was really good at what he did.”
Her girlfriend’s long-time dentist was Richard C. Montz, DDS, of River City Dentistry in DeBary. At her friend’s urging, Josiane decided to leave the dental practice she was with and try Dr. Montz. She wasn’t sure what to make of the soft-spoken dentist at first, but it was his quiet, intelligent manner that eventually won her over.
“When I first met Dr. Montz, I found him very reserved and not very talkative,” remembers Josiane. “I started questioning myself. Did I make the wrong move? But after he examined my teeth and my condition of having repeated root canals, he sat down and went over what was going on, and he was very calm.
“He explained things to me in a way I could understand. I thought, He knows what he’s talking about. He told me I had quite a few issues with my teeth, but we were going to fix them little by little. That put me at ease, and suddenly, I felt okay.”
After conferring with Dr. Montz about a long-term treatment plan, Josiane was completely comfortable with the dentist’s expertise and approach. However, she was still frightened by the dental work yet to come.
“I told Dr. Montz I was probably going to be one of his worst patients because I didn’t like needles. I didn’t like anything,” she notes. “I got terribly stressed just being at the dentist. But he was very calming and gentle, even with the numbing shots. I never had anything like them. I just felt a little pinch, not the pain I’ve experienced with prior dentists.
“Dr. Montz cared about how I felt and did everything he could to make me feel better. I knew then I was in the right place. I wished I had talked to my girlfriend sooner.”

“I Didn’t Feel a Thing!”

Janice Gindl was no fan of dentists either. The retired teacher had no single horrible experience to explain her fear, but at 86, she remembers the days before effective anesthesia. She was terrified of the pain she anticipated from dental procedures. She especially hated needles. When a serious issue with her teeth arose, she dreaded the thought of a dental visit.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

One of Janice’s favorite activities is reading.

“I had a few teeth that needed to be pulled, but boy, was I frightened,” she says. “I thought having my teeth pulled was going to be very painful, and just the thought of the Novocain® made me doubly frightened, so I put it off and put it off.
“But there were a couple of bad teeth, and one of them had an infection. They caused me pain, and I had trouble chewing. I couldn’t eat certain foods, like steak or other beef or chewy stuff. It got to the point something had to be done.”
Without a regular dentist, Janice was in the dark about where to turn for the care she needed. Like Josiane, she wanted a dentist who was compassionate and gentle. She also wanted someone who was experienced and knowledgeable, and whom she could trust. Her search led her to River City Dentistry and Dr. Montz.
“I happened to be in the hearing office having my hearing aid checked, and I saw a copy of Florida Health Care News,” she relates. “There was an article in it about a fella who was scared to go to the dentist. He went to Dr. Montz and wasn’t scared anymore because of the dentist’s treatment. So, I thought, Why don’t I go see Dr. Montz?
“When I first met him, he was all business, and he didn’t tell me I ought to have implants. He also didn’t try to sell me any cosmetic surgery.”
As he did for Josiane, Dr. Montz developed a sensible treatment plan for Janice. First, he pulled three of her failing teeth. He promised her she wouldn’t feel pain during the extractions, but Janice was dubious.

“All of a sudden, Dr. Montz said we were finished, and I thought, That was okay. I didn’t feel a thing!” – Janice

“I thought it was going to be extremely painful. I saw the needle for the Novocain, and it scared me silly,” she states. “Dr. Montz said it wouldn’t bother me, and I thought, Oh, sure, but it didn’t hurt, so I was happy about that.
“I really had no idea what was happening when he removed the teeth because my mouth was numb. All of a sudden, Dr. Montz said we were finished, and I thought, That was okay. I didn’t feel a thing!”
As part of Janice’s treatment plan, Dr. Montz performed other, minor dental procedures on several of Janice’s remaining teeth to strengthen them. After her painless experience with the tooth extractions, Janice was more comfortable during her subsequent appointments.
“Dr. Montz tells me what he’s going to do,” she offers, “and I’m less frightened now by the needles. It helps that his assistant numbs the surface of my gums before he puts the needles in.”

Anxiety and Phobia

Few people like going to the dentist, getting injections and having procedures done, but some people have a serious phobia of dentists that can impact their oral health. People with dental phobia often refuse to visit a dentist until a condition becomes an emergency. At that point, the problem may require tooth extraction or intensive procedures to repair.
“Dental anxiety and fear keep half the population from going to the dentist,” acknowledges Dr. Montz. “These feelings can be managed to a certain degree if dentists are aware of the condition and make appropriate accommodations for those patients.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

Josiane relaxes at home with her friends Rocky and Paco.

“For example, dentists need to pay attention to the way they give injections, use anesthesia that does not cause pain on injection or a different type of anesthesia. They must be aware that people react to anesthesia differently. Some require more anesthesia or take longer to become numb. Work should not be started until they are completely numb, so dentists must be patient.”
Dental anxiety and dental phobia are different. People with dental anxiety generally feel uneasy before an appointment. They’ll have exaggerated or unfound worries or fears. Dental phobia is a more serious condition. It is an intense fear or dread. People with this condition aren’t merely anxious about a visit to the dentist; they are terrified or panic-stricken.
“Josiane was absolutely terrified when she first came to see me,” recalls Dr. Montz. “She hadn’t been to the dentist in a long time and was very hesitant to do anything because she had bad experiences in the past. We didn’t rush her through treatment, and we took care to be gentle. Now, she’s getting dental implants and doesn’t have any problem coming in for dental procedures.
“Janice had some failing root canals and failing teeth with infection, so several teeth had to be removed. We didn’t start out with the big procedure. We started out by getting the infection in her mouth cleared up so she didn’t have the recurring pain. I presented her with a plan, and by the time we were finished, she was sleeping through her appointments.”

User-Friendly Dentistry

Dr. Montz notes that caring for fearful patients starts with the dental hygienist. The hygienist can’t be rough or cause the patients pain. He or she must be mindful and gentle while doing a thorough cleaning. That’s the goal at River City Dentistry.
“We like to have our patients start with us by coming through the hygiene department,” says Dr. Montz. “We’d rather not have a patient’s first experience with us be a tooth extraction or a major procedure if we can help it.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

Janice can eat and drink anything she wants.

“The first thing we do with all patients is get them stabilized. Then, we sit down with them and ask, Where do you want to end up? Do you want to do this? We also tell them, This is what can possibly happen if you don’t take care of this.
When Dr. Montz has to refer his patients to specialists, he takes care to choose those who are also experienced with fearful patients.
“We don’t use specialists who hurt patients,” assures the dentist. “When I first came to this area, patients were terrified of going to one oral surgery group because the doctors were rough and didn’t care. Dentistry is a lot more user-friendly now.”

Changed Opinions

Josiane says she feels better about going to the dentist and now goes regularly. She believes many of her dental problems are her own fault because she put off seeing a dentist for so long. But now she’s found one she can rely on.
“Dr. Montz takes the time to calm me down and do the work in a way I can manage,” she remarks. “He’s going to do whatever needs to be done and correct my problems little by little.
“I know he has my back. Dr. Montz puts my interest first, so I trust him, and trust for me is extremely important.”
Since Janice discovered dentistry is not as painful as she expected and she doesn’t feel the needles when they go in, she also feels much better about going to the dentist. She’s excited about her diet, too, after her failing teeth were removed.
“Now, I can eat anything,” she reports. “I can eat steak with no problem, and I don’t have any pain in my teeth. I’m very happy with my results.

“Dr. Montz puts my interest first, so I trust him, and trust for me is extremely important.”– Josiane

“Dr. Montz lived up to what the article said about him as far as the previous fella who was afraid of the dentist. He was scared to go, just like I was, and he put it off. Then, he went to Dr. Montz and didn’t have any pain when the procedure was being done. I had the same feeling. It was painless dentistry.”
Both women say they would recommend Dr. Montz and River City Dentistry to others who fear going to the dentist. Janice thinks her story should convince anyone who thinks dentistry is painful to change their mind.
“I would just relay my experience,” she notes.
“Dr. Montz’s true calling is doing dentistry with compassion for his patients,” says Josiane. “I recommend him without a doubt!”

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    • River City Dentistry

      River City Dentistry focuses on their patients' overall experience. They strive for excellence in every aspect of patient care. They do this by maintaining the latest technologies, working convenient hours, and by implementing a comfo... Read More

    • Richard C. Montz, DDS

      Richard C. Montz, DDS, completed his undergraduate studies at Bowling Green State University, OH, and earned his degree in dental surgery from Ohio State University. Dr. Montz served as a dental officer in the US NAVY DENTAL CORPS from 1985 u... Read More