Catherine’s dental phobia was once so severe that dental advertisements or even passing a dental office could trigger a panic attack. Worse, her debilitating phobia kept her from seeing a dentist for over 10 years. Eventually, she developed a life-threatening oral infection and lived with it for over a year and a half. “I was in pain, but I was too scared to receive care,” said Catherine, a resident of Bakersfield, Calif.
Catherine’s dental phobia was once so severe that dental advertisements or even passing a dental office could trigger a panic attack. Worse, her debilitating phobia kept her from seeing a dentist for over 10 years. Eventually, she developed a life-threatening oral infection and lived with it for over a year and a half.
“I was in pain, but I was too scared to receive care,” said Catherine, a resident of Bakersfield, Calif.
By fall of 2017, she was in desperate need of treatment. When it was announced one Sunday at her church that the CDA Foundation’s volunteer dental clinic, CDA Cares, was coming to Bakersfield and needed community volunteers, Catherine made the decision to attend as a patient, just to get out of pain.
Because of her fear, however, she spent much of that first morning of the clinic sitting in her car in the parking lot outside of the Kern County Fairgrounds, where the event was held. After “a massive panic attack and a lot of praying,” Catherine concluded that she was too scared to receive treatment, but she chose to stay and sign up as a volunteer. Some members of her church had already done so in response to the call for volunteers earlier that fall. Plus, she thought it might be a small step to confronting her phobia.
Catherine credits several longtime CDA Cares volunteers for what happened next: getting her into a chair to receive much-needed care.
On a break during her first volunteer shift, she met Nancy Yarborough, lead of patient support. After Catherine confessed her dental phobia, Nancy encouraged her to talk to a dentist about needing treatment. Later that day, Catherine worked up the courage to talk to Nancy’s husband, Craig Yarborough, DDS, who at the time was the CDA Cares Committee chair.
Catherine told him about her oral infection, pain and phobia.
“Nancy brought Catherine to me and I could tell she needed care but was very apprehensive,” Dr. Yarborough said. “I assured her we treat all individuals, individually. I asked her to trust me and said if she could return the next day as a patient, we would take care of her first thing in the morning. To her credit, she had the courage to do that.”
“He helped me through the fear of the registration process,” Catherine said.
Catherine completed her volunteer shift and returned as a patient early the next morning. After registration and X-rays, she was introduced to Stephen Abbott, DDS, who provided the treatment that eliminated her pain and infection.
“When Dr. Yarborough brought Catherine over to my chair, the fear was obvious in her face,” Dr. Abbott said. But he explained to Catherine the procedures he would be performing and assured her that her comfort was paramount to everything else. “If at any time she needed to pause treatment, we would do so.”
That Saturday, they slowly and methodically completed the treatment on two of Catherine’s most pressing dental issues.
“He was kind and patient with me and my dental phobia,” she said.
Six months later, Catherine, who used to cover her mouth with her hand when she laughed, was well on her way to being completely over her dental phobia, helped along by the gentle consultation, care and education she said she received at the Bakersfield clinic.
She also noticed that she was beginning to smile for pictures.
“As my teeth were fixed, my self-esteem grew,” Catherine said. “I felt I’d come out of a shell that I didn’t know I was in. CDA Cares Bakersfield set my feet on the path to receiving dental care, and I will be forever grateful to the amazing volunteers who put me on that path to healing.”
Catherine is not only benefiting from improved self-esteem but from an improved oral health care routine at home. She now brushes twice daily and flosses daily, which she admits was not a habit for her prior to the Bakersfield clinic.
And having overcome her dental phobia, she says she is now in a much better position to ensure that her children follow the same good practices and receive the dental care they need.
“I regularly remind my kids to only floss the teeth they want to keep,” she said with a laugh.
Dr. Yarborough says that along with Nancy, Dr. Abbott is the “true hero in this story” for his ability to gain Catherine’s trust and confidence, perform root canal therapy and change her perception of the value of oral health care.
The next CDA Cares will take place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27-28, at the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino. General dentists, oral surgeons, dental hygienists, dental assistants and lab technicians are needed to provide extractions, fillings, cleanings and a limited number of root canals, dentures and partial dentures. Community volunteers are also needed to guide patients to clinic stations, assist with language translation and help with clinic set-up and tear-down.
Catherine will be there with a big smile.
“I’m paying it forward,” she said. “I’ve volunteered at every CDA Cares since Bakersfield. I’m looking forward to this fall, where it will be my fifth opportunity to volunteer and support this important work of bringing dental relief to those in need.”
“It is great to see Catherine and her amazing smile each time she returns to volunteer at CDA Cares,” Nancy Yarborough said. “I feel very fortunate to have been a small part of her journey to make it happen.”
Dr. Abbott said that these glimpses of transformation, in patients like Catherine, are what make the clinics so rewarding.
“CDA Cares allows us to do what we have been trained to do with no remuneration except a deep personal feeling of satisfaction that we have made a difference in the life of another.”
Register to volunteer at CDA Cares San Bernardino or learn more about the clinic through the FAQ. Find more stories about patients and volunteers on cda.org and on the CDA Cares Facebook page or YouTube playlist.