When dental visits unearth old trauma
[May 26, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
From the taste of blood in her mouth to feeling powerless and unable to talk, sexual assault survivor Juliet dreaded annual visits to the dentist.
Everything brought back the trauma of the sexual abuse she’d endured from a male relative from the age of three to 14. She would “white knuckle” the dental chair, scared she would die.
New research and treatment, thought to be a world first, by Melbourne dentist Sharonne Zaks finds many victims of severe trauma – from those who have survived the Holocaust to sexual assault – avoid the dentist.
This is a mainstream news article by Julie Power from the Sydney Morning Herald. Read the full article here: From tasting blood to feeling powerless, dental visits revive old trauma.
[May 26, 2022: Editors’ notes:
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Growing up, dentists were the worst, inflicting pain, yelling at you to hold still while you are in pain. Holding you down so you won’t move….the worst….etc etc….glad dentists are better today.
I never would have thought to connect dental visits with sexual assault. OB / GYN visits, yes, but not the dentist. The depth of damage done to the innocent by the wicked continues to sadden and infuriate me.
Perhaps a preparatory trigger warning could be considered. My profession was as a Dental Hygienist. Yet, I avoided allowing other hygienists to clean my teeth; did it myself.
I later became aware of subconscious techniques I applied to patients so that they could have a sense of their own control during their appts…. I left my patients in a somewhat half-reclined position, which meant I was sitting / standing myself to accommodate their comfort. I stood in front of them when first seating them so that they saw my body, hands, facial expressions.
I observed their body language at the same time. I asked if there was anything I needed to be aware of, allowing them to hear their own voice.
I was never taught these techniques, they were developed intuitively.
Yet, this excellent ground breaking article unnerved me immediately; bad memories came flooding back. These are not childhood dental memories, but stemming from a dentist I worked for by default, in my [third decade]. He bought out the dental practice from a wonderful dentist / employer. I intuitively knew he was unsafe for me, but allowed him to place orthodontic bands and wires on my teeth.
(I had desired corrective braces for a long time. This was my opportunity.) I became his employee and his patient at the same time. Therein, memories of forgotten childhood abuse began to surface. Memories so traumatic, they were forgotten almost immediately.
The braces were confining and painful. They contained metals that, I later discovered, I was allergic to.
We live in archaic modes in dentistry. Little is taught about the great connection between oral and body health. Our saliva gives great information about our entire chemistry. Thankfully, teachings are coming to the surface. I am very thankful for this article bringing light to darkness, in more ways than one.
Thanks, Seeing Clearly, I have added a trigger warning at the start of the post. I should have done so at first.
Oddly enough, trips to the dentist and orthodontist never brought up traumatic memories for me. My difficulties stem from limited financial resources and Asperger’s.
I dislike the inconsequential chit-chat used to fill in the gaps of time between procedures, and I choose not to share highly personal details with someone who is unlikely to understand me.
Fortunately, my abusive family of origin did ONE thing right, by ensuring we had regular trips to the dentist, and in my case, an orthodontist when needed.
Now, I take care of my teeth assiduously, and although I know I need a trip to the dentist, I have yet to make an appointment. Since my walls crumbled, I haven’t reached the stage in my healing where I can guarantee I will able to attend the scheduled appointment, and I don’t want to face writing down the answers to some of the questions they ask on new client forms. (My dentist retired.)
My next trip to the dentist is not a matter of facing traumatic memories, it’s a matter of facing telling someone traumatic truths.
Your walls crumbling alters a previously predictable schedule. Finding a trustworthy human who can also perform quality dental work is not guaranteed on the first attempt. The inability to pre-read required medical forms / depth of required history is probably unavailable.
These are barriers that deter many survivors of abuse from scheduling a dental appointment.
I finished listening to the 24 min YouTube message. Few dentists in the US are probably considering the importance of educating themselves to create a safe environment where survivors can practice presence and calmness.
When filling out medical forms for any medical office, I, personally, avoid any terminology beyond:
Basic antidepressant or anxiety meds
Generic term: childhood traumas
More specific term: PTSD
Mental health hospitalizations are never listed (irrelevant to current medical info)
One can assess, after a brief time with a dentist if they are sensing it would be too risky to say, “Experiences in my past leave me very uneasy about relaxing and allowing you to examine my teeth. Can we go slowly and I will raise my left hand if I need to stop.”
Another option, rather than walking out and giving up is to request that this appt be shorter than normal. Also, ask the Dr to write down what to expect could be accomplished in the second appt.
Tears are not taboo. Many people who have not been sexually abused also exhibit extreme anxiety. Dentists accept it as coming with their chosen profession.
Feel free to keep your private matters to yourself. Normally, time restraints encourage few / any personal questions to be asked of you.
I mention these in the hopes that a more logical, less fearful and intimidating, perspective might help you to move forward, Finding Answers.
Thank you, Seeing Clearly, for some REALLY good ideas / suggestions.
I will need to weigh the pros and cons of the information I provide, as I know some kinds of information might be helpful to the dentist / dental hygienist in terms of how they treat me.
And NOT providing some kinds of information might have disastrous results, either to me or to the dentist / dental hygienist. I am as concerned about their well-being as I am with my own.
Thank you again, Seeing Clearly. You have suggested options that will help me make better choices / decisions.
Any proximity alone with a man: dentist, doctor, music teacher, coach if one-on-one, etc. Unnerving. Terrifying. Movement of hands.
[That is] why Jesus said it would be better to cut off one’s hands….the hands are power, literally and symbolically. Matthew 5:30. A pastor once pointed this out with that verse; he worked for the safety of women in his fellowship. [He was] one of the good guys.
(By the way, this is an EXCELLENT website. God bless.)
Thank you! 🙂
I like the connection you made with Jesus’ statement that it would be better to cut off one’s hands than to suffer the eternal consequences of having violated another person’s body against their will or without their full and free and fully informed consent. The eternal consequence (i.e., living in hell — suffering God’s wrath for eternity) also applies to having used one’s hands to self-pleasure at the images (on screen or in imagination) of another person’s private parts being violated.
Side note to give reassurance to married people: The only exception to what I said above is when the person you are imaging in your mind is your covenant married partner and you are caring for / loving / protecting / nurturing / cherishing your spouse in fidelity and understanding and compassion for both yourself and your spouse.
There IS forgiveness for the sins of the hands that are driven by lust, if the sinner confesses and comes to faith in Jesus Christ. But those who do not confess and repent and have faith in Jesus will face eternal punishment.
Here are truths equally balanced. God’s Law and God’s Gospel:
1) God is just and He will punish sin.
2) God is merciful and He forgives and wipes away the sin of all who repent and trust in Jesus.
God can do this because He became human (took on the flesh of a human being) in this world.
As a man in the flesh, he obeyed the Law perfectly.
As a man who was perfectly righteous (unlike you and me who are far from perfectly righteous) He suffered for you and for me the entire wrath of God for sin: all the sin that human beings have committed in this world and all the sins they will commit before this world is rolled up like a scroll.
As God, He poured out all the punishment for sin on Himself. That is how much He loves us. Words fail me. Words cannot express it. But God loves you and He calls you to repent and put all your faith and trust in Jesus.
Jesus is God. Jesus is the Son of God. And the Son is ONE with God the Father. Jesus is the only Redeemer, the only Saviour, the only Lord and Judge.
Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen.