Mary smiles wide and bright

After 10 years, Mary faces her fear of dentists and hospitals. She shares her story to inspire you to take control of your fears.

October 27, 2023

For over a decade, going to the dentist or entering a hospital, would paralyse our Flex Support participant Mary with fear. Fast forward to last month and thanks to the dedication of her support workers and sedation dentistry, Mary underwent dental surgery that she had been putting off for over 10 years.

“Mary was so brave, and we were very proud of her for facing her fears. It was a big team effort to get the surgery organised and get Mary to the point where she felt confident and comfortable with having surgery,” said her Support Worker, Fiona.

At 14 years old, Mary was hit by a car while on her way home from school. The accident left her with an acquired brain injury, epilepsy, short term memory loss and a phobia of hospitals. Over time, Mary found it a struggle to manage her oral health which led to developing several dental concerns.

“As I got to know Mary, it seemed like she had only gone to the dentist maybe once in her life. I spoke to her social worker, who told me they had been trying to get Mary to the dentist for the last 10 years. Mary had started to complain of other health concerns and because I knew that oral hygiene could affect other areas of the body, I said we should start there,” continued Fiona.

According to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, “people with disability are at a higher risk of poor oral (or dental) health and more likely to develop conditions such as gum disease, tooth decay, loss of teeth and related illnesses.”’

Fiona suggested that Mary consider sedation dentistry so that she could have the overdue dental work completed while under general anaesthetic. The pair did research into the procedure, recovery, hospital process and cost, to help Mary come to a decision about what she would like to do.

After many conversations and a brave trip to the dentist for a consultation, the procedure was locked in with Dr Kankotiya from the Shoalhaven Dental Surgery and Implant Centre and Nowra Private Hospital. Soon enough the day arrived and although Mary had her nerves, she knew Fiona was right by her side.

“The team at Nowra Private Hospital were great. We had a lot of conversations about how to make Mary comfortable and they allowed me to be in the room with her as she went under anaesthetic. Mary has a ginger cat called Nugget so in the lead up to surgery I brought her a plush toy version of Nugget to have with her and focus on as she was going to sleep. I had her concentrate on her breathing, and we repeated our mantra together… breathe in courage and breathe out fear. Even the Anaesthetist was surprised how quickly Mary fell asleep,” said Fiona.

To further ease Mary’s anxiety, Fiona stayed in the area and was back at the end of Mary’s bed when she woke up from recovery. The three-hour surgery has not just gotten Mary back on track with her oral health, but it has also greatly improved her overall wellbeing.

Fiona shared, “Since having the surgery, Mary has been more independent with her personal hygiene including showering and taking care of her teeth. She has also been so much more confident and is smiling with the widest grin. Mary asked if we were proud of her; a question she loves to ask is, “have I blown your mind?” – and of course, she has!

While Mary still has a fear of the dentist, and of hospitals, but now she knows that with the right support she has the courage to face her fears. And you can, too! We hope Mary’s story has inspired you to book that dental check-up.