Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dentists and Abuse Survivors

By the age of 18, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused. Not only is the abuse traumatic at the time it occurs, it often has long term disruptive consequences for the adult survivor. For example, medical procedures can be difficult to tolerate.

For many of us who are survivors, going to the dentist is a traumatic experience. We avoid using the dentist, have trouble making or keeping our appointments and it seems most of us have stress related dental problems (such as TMJ from grinding teeth at night) and have severe distress while at the dentist.

What is the connection between the symptoms of dental anxiety and childhood sexual abuse? There are many reasons that make sense to us: being alone with a person (especially male) more powerful than us, being placed in a horizontal position, being touched, having objects put in our mouth, hands on our face, being unable to swallow and anticipating pain or experiencing it.

What can we do to help ourselves while at the dentist? If you are comfortable telling your dentist you are an abuse survivor that can alleviate some of the anxiety because your dentist, hopefully, will be more sensitive to any issues you have. More dentists are becoming more aware of this problem and are treating patients more accordingly to their symptoms.

Some other things to try are: Ask the dentist to explain all procedures, ask to be forewarned of possible pain, develop an agreed upon signal if you need to stop or take a breather. Tell your dentist when you are afraid! Slow your breathing down,using deep breaths. Self talk yourself through it saying things like, "It;s almost over. I am safe. I am doing this for my health."

Sometimes bringing your iPod with you and listening to soothing music during the procedure can help. Bring a comfort item such as a soft piece of cloth or even a small stuffie. If you are a woman survivor wear pants instead of skirts or dresses to your appointment.

What can you ask your dentist to do to help you? There are several things to consider such as: Placing the dental chair in an upright position, keeping the door open, have another person present, don't touch your body except where the dentist is working on, check on you frequently to see if your still present and okay and, perhaps, offer a body covering such as a x-ray cover to help you feel protected.

Going to the dentist is not on our top favorite list for things to do but we know it is important so this is how we have all coped. I hope that this can alleviate some of your anxiety should you have any about dentists.


  1. Oooh! We have trouble with this also. The TMJ, and fear of dentists. We were able to find a wonderful dental clinic with all female staff that is close by, what a lifesaver. With a dental appointment coming up I was glad to see this and be reminded of these tips.