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Why Visiting the Dentist With Trigeminal Neuralgia Doesn't Have to Be Traumatic

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On Monday, I went to the dentist to get a filling done that I’d been putting off for about a year. I know, I shouldn’t have avoided going for so long.

My main problem with going to the dentist has to do with the biggest trigger for my TN – pretty much anything to do with my mouth. This includes eating, touching my face, sometimes even speaking and — the second problem here — brushing my teeth. You might notice the vicious cycle: I can’t brush my teeth as well as I’d like and I don’t want to visit the dentist in case that also causes pain.

About a year ago, I saw my dentist (now ex-dentist) and he said I might need a little filling on one of my bottom, almost-back teeth on the non-neuralgia side. I asked if it was really necessary, as I was sure all the drilling and vibrating was going to set my pain off anyway, so he said we could just leave it and deal with it later. “Later,” as it turns out, turned into almost a year and when I eventually got back in touch with the dental practice, I found out that my dentist had quit. Fantastic.

I had to have an initial check up with a new dentist at the practice. Then, I went back a few weeks later, on Monday, for the filling. It was a horrible experience, mostly down to my own nerves. I was physically shaking. I’m sure anyone with TN can feel me here – the absolute dread of an “attack” can knock you sick. I dragged myself into his consultation room and knowing how nervous I was, he very quickly came at me with the needle for the anesthetic. I didn’t know what was happening until I was being injected. He definitely got the worst out of the way as quickly as he could, without me waiting around in anticipation. I am so grateful!

Unfortunately, it turned out that I needed two fillings right next to each other and it really hurt afterwards. The dental treatment did set off my pain, but at least I had the fillings done and I’m sure I’m much better for it, rather than losing some teeth further down the line. I’ve spent the last couple of days recovering and eating soft foods.

I’m not going to lie to you — it did trigger my pain. The dental nurse leaned quite hard on my mouth on my TN side when she was using the suction machine and there was a lot of pulling at my face, even though the dentist was trying to be gentle. The drill vibrated my entire face. It wasn’t a nice experience, but it was something that needed to be done. As much as I was in agony the evening and night of the appointment, I would do it again, because I might have to.

If you have TN or another form of chronic pain, visiting the dentist doesn’t have to be a traumatic experience. You just have to tackle it like just another medical appointment.

Here are my top tips for a dentist trip when you have trigeminal neuralgia:

1) Tell the dentist you are nervous. Your TN is nothing to be ashamed of and your dentist does need to be aware of what triggers your pain. Tell them what bothers you so they can help you work about round it. Show your dentist where especially hurts on your face; let them know which areas are “bad” zones for you and go from there.

2) Forget the stigma. I use to get quite upset about my dental hygiene. I didn’t like feeling “dirty” if I couldn’t brush my teeth properly, and I didn’t want my dentist to think I was avoiding it because I couldn’t be bothered or didn’t want to. I was embarrassed. But a dentist was the first person to diagnose me with my condition and I believe trigeminal neuralgia is best understood by dentists. It’s a condition loads of people commonly first think is toothache. A dentist should not judge if you find it difficult to brush your teeth. If they do, I’m happy to help you find a new dentist.

2) Take a painkiller before and/or after. This might sound like an obvious one, but prepare to be in pain, because it might happen. I personally took a painkiller about an hour before the filling and then again right after. When I have a check up, I would probably take a painkiller before and not bother with one afterwards. Please consult your GP to discuss this one further.

3) Take someone from your support system, just in case. I thought I could do it on my own and ended up calling my mum to pick me up afterwards, because I couldn’t face the small talk with the taxi driver. I should have taken her with me anyway to save the waiting around.

4) Smile when it’s over! Once the dental work has been done, show off those pearly whites. You made it out in one piece, even if you’re not feeling too great afterwards. Every achievement, no matter how small, is worth celebrating, so whether it was a check up, or a surgery, take a bow!

Do you have any tips for visiting the dentist?

Originally published: May 10, 2018
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