Should You Tell Your Dentist You Have DID?

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Short answer:  It depends.

Long answer:  It depends on your goal.

Revealing a diagnosis because you think it will result in an immediate action by the dentist, which will make sitting in that chair easier, is usually based on magical thinking arising from stress and anxiety.  It makes sense:  “please give me one thing I can do to make these awful feelings go away.”

I wish life with DID worked that way.

Parts might want to reveal your diagnosis because they think they can scare the dentist, and that would defend them against being abused or mistreated.  Again, this is faulty thinking from a part that believes things are as desperate and dangerous as they were in the past.  It is understandable.  They were formed in terror.  They react as if the terror is still going on.  But they are wrong.  You are an adult, with some agency and power now.

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There is one situation in which telling your dentist about your DID diagnosis is absolutely necessary, and not saying anything will almost certainly make your treatment much more difficult for both of you.

If you are almost certain you will switch during your appointment, because you have done so in the past, and the part that appeared was either aggressive, combative, or tried to leave during a procedure, you cannot remain silent.  Saying nothing when this has happened repeatedly in other appointments is a mistake.  Once it occurs in an exam or treatment without you having given warning, your credibility with that provider has been cratered.

Another massively disruptive action would be to freeze in dissociation and be immobilized during treatment.  Not being able to speak or move would be alarming to a provider, and this needs to be addressed honestly.  You will have to share your best strategies for them to take if it happens.  They could be more scared at that moment than you are.

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Anyone who has parts that take over, whether you are co-conscious with them or you have complete amnesia for the time they are “out”, needs to work hard on internal communication.  They need to learn effective stabilization skills, because switching often is the result of being triggered.  It can be done.  It will make your life better, and your medical and dental appointments better.  Your system will be able to take a breath.

Question:  What about if I am just severely anxious and afraid, but don’t think I will switch?

Answer:  You still have to think of your ultimate goal(s) before you reveal your diagnosis.

Assuming that saying you have DID will result in your dentist knowing how to alter their treatment to help you be less triggered is not a fair assumption.  Not now, not in our current state of healthcare.  There is no way to know if they know what DID really is.  They may not be any more informed than your next door neighbor.  They could have watched the series “United States of Tara” and that is ALL they know about DID.  Remember, this is someone who works on teeth.

Sadly, providers are still people, with the same biases and the same issues as the rest of us.  Some are beyond compassionate and curious.  They want to learn.  Others are judgmental and closed-minded.  You don’t get wings with that license! They are definitely not trauma therapists, so even the most caring provider has very limited knowledge and skills about how to deal with dissociation.

Can I say anything at all?

Of course.  There is a lot you can say and do that will help you.

Every dentist is familiar with people who find sitting in their chair anxiety-provoking.  Saying that you are very anxious should alert them to bring their “A-game” of anti-anxiety tools to bear.  Saying that you have had some traumatic experiences in the past, and dental work makes it harder to deal with them might also result in getting more compassion from the dentist, and it is a warning that you may be edgier or more emotional during treatment.

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If you need support, you can bring someone with you, bring a toy or other item that helps you channel your support team, or bring concrete ideas about how the session should be managed.  In my book, “Staying In The Room”, I describe many ways that examinations can be done to reduce stress and reduce the chance of increasing dissociation.  Patients can make requests for dentists to alter their treatment in ways that can reduce dissociative symptoms but don’t significantly affect the ability of a dentist or doctor to do their job.  Dental patients with DID who are informed and  know their system well can be proactive and empowered.

Your appointment could go well if you reveal your diagnosis.  It just might not get you what you want:  excellent care with less fear and pain.

Want more information on how to make appointments better without needing to be sedated or taking your therapist with you for a cleaning?

I wrote a book for you!

Staying in the Room:  Managing Medical and Dental Care When You Have DID is available as an e-book or a paperback on Amazon .

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Published by Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist and a licensed massage therapist, in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment, with a focus on sensory processing issues and treating the consequences of complex trauma. I am the author of four books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone". Over the years I have lectured about trauma treatment and pediatric development.

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