I’ve been seeing the same dentist in Auburn for many years and he’s been pretty good with me. I have some dental anxiety… I wouldn’t call it a bad case but I do white-knuckle it a bit while I’m there. He’s been understanding about it in the past and worked with me to get things done. Anyway, I went in for a cleaning at the start of March and he discovered a cavity. Not a huge deal—he’s done a few fillings for me in the past and I thought this would be no different. However, the office shut down due to COVID and my appointment was rescheduled several times. This past week was the first time I could get in… suffice it to say, it was a different experience. The only real issue, though, was when he attempted to place a piece of plastic or rubber over my mouth. No warning. Nothing. He just put it on without talking to me about it and I panicked. I couldn’t breathe with it on, started hyperventilating, and then tore the thing off myself.
Well, bad turned to worse because, instead of calming me down, the dentist jumped out of his chair and stormed out of the room. His assistant was even stunned by it. I could tell. She didn’t say anything at first… just sort of stood there in shock and patted my arm and told me to take a minute to myself.
When I finally calmed down… no thanks to them… the dentist came back in and told me that I had to wear it as part of their new COVID precautions. I told him there was no way I could wear it. It sent my anxiety through the roof. He then told me I could wear it or leave. He would not do my filling if I didn’t. I left.
Can a dentist really force me to wear one of these things? I’m worried because, if they’re all this way, I don’t think I can get my filling done anywhere.
Sorry to hear you’ve been through all this. It sounds like a horrible and frightening experience, especially considering you had anxiety beforehand. Let’s break down what this device is and what your options going forward are.
The Rubber Sheet is a Common Tool Called a Dental Dam
Although your provider may not have used them in the past, dental dams are quite common. Dentists routinely use them to keep a tooth isolated to ensure a tooth isn’t contaminated while it’s being repaired and to prevent debris from falling into a patient’s mouth.
Many Dentists Are Using Dental Dams to Reduce Airborne Saliva During COVID
It probably goes without saying, but when dental handpieces are whirring around in your mouth and there’s saliva present, they can and do whip that saliva into the air sending microdroplets in every possible direction. There are things the dental team can do to keep saliva away from the handpiece, but none are as effective as creating a barrier between the saliva and the area the dentist is working. That’s exactly what the dental dam does. And, although it’s not a formal requirement from any governing agency at this time, many dentists have started using them as an extra precaution. They and their teams obviously need to minimize their risk, lest they get sick and spread coronavirus too. If your dentist feels the dental dam is necessary, and you don’t allow him to use it, he can decline to treat you. You are, in essence, preventing him from doing his job safely and well.
Find Another Dentist
At the end of the day, this dentist didn’t do right by you because he didn’t honor your dental anxiety. He made it worse and behaved poorly. If he had explained his methodology first or even paused to talk to you while you were struggling, this would have had a much different ending. He didn’t, and for that reason, it probably time to move on.
That leaves you with two options. First, you can find a new dentist who does not require you to wear a dental dam. Just call around and see which offices in your area do not require them. As a second option, you can search for a “gentle dentist” or sedation dentist—someone who understands dental anxiety and will take extra precautions to keep you comfortable. That may simply mean having a calmer demeanor or it could involve using something like nitrous or medications to keep you relaxed while still using the dam. In any case, it’s a good idea to find someone you’re comfortable soon, so you can get that cavity fixed before it grows too much. Best of luck to you.
This blog is sponsored by Dr. Bolt, an Auburn, AL dentist.