Looking Back

Life with snakes and dentists

‘Open wide’ and ‘Sssss’ are my two worst phobias

Larry Bowers Banner Staff Writer
Posted 8/19/15

“Snakes on a Plane” is a movie I have no desire to see. Also, I never want to make another dentist appointment!

These are the two phobias I’ve had all my life.

From what I’ve …

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Looking Back

Life with snakes and dentists

‘Open wide’ and ‘Sssss’ are my two worst phobias


“Snakes on a Plane” is a movie I have no desire to see. Also, I never want to make another dentist appointment!

These are the two phobias I’ve had all my life.

From what I’ve discovered, lots of people have snake phobias, but most don't feel the need to seek professional help. If you live in a city, where snakes are pretty rare, the fear of snakes may not cause you any trouble at all.

Parents don't want their children to pick up their fear of snakes, and dread the day when their child brings home a picture book of snakes, or asks to visit the reptile house of the local zoo.

Someone whose spouse or partner enjoys hiking outdoors, or other areas where snakes may be present, may find that avoidance of these places prevents what would otherwise be an enjoyable activity with their partner. It might even limit their choice of vacation sites.

My late wife had a more severe fear of snakes than I did. She would leave the room if a snake popped up on television. Our sons drove her crazy with rubber snakes when they were young, but I don’t know where they got them!

She was one of those people for whom a photo of a snake was unbearable.

People do live in areas where encounters with snakes are more likely, and they must manage their fears daily.

You might ask why people fear snakes, and you would probably get a list of reasons.

I believe the reason I have a strong fear of snakes was an incident that happened when I was about 5 or 6 years old.

I was visiting with my grandmother in Greeneville, and went outside to play. There was a well house a short distance from the old farmhouse, and I went to see what it was.

As I stepped inside onto the concrete flooring, my foot came down within a few inches of a water moccasin. I am sure I would have been bitten, but the snake had a large minnow in its mouth and was unable to strike me.

It was so shocking I had trouble sleeping for nights afterward, and the memory has stayed with me over the years.

Professionals say you can develop a phobia if you’ve had a difficult encounter with a snake at some point in your life. You might have observed someone else become afraid in the presence of a snake; or, you may have read, or heard, scary stories about snakes.

They also say you may be unable to attribute your fear to any particular experience, which often confuses people. This leads them to become preoccupied with the "Why?" question.

Fear of a specific animal may develop because it has historically posed a threat to humans. So, for example, it would be hard to acquire a phobia for bunny rabbits.

It’s believed by some scientists to be a predetermined part of anthropological history. According to the topic “Snake Phobia: Common & Treatable” on the anxietycoach.com website, “It’s easier to acquire a fear of snakes, or heights, or water, because there were times in our evolutionary chain when those objects posed a threat to our survival.”

However, for the most part, it really doesn't matter how you became afraid of snakes. Successful treatment isn't usually concerned with “Why?” at all, but instead focuses on desensitization and exposure to snakes.

If you have a fear of snakes that causes you trouble, you're best served by understanding that this fear is your problem, but not your fault.

Most phobias are best overcome by exposure to the feared object, and this is true for snake phobias as well. Treatment will most likely involve exposure to an actual snake.

I imagine this is where the old saying comes from: Face you fears!

Now we turn to my fear of dentists, which I have to admit is at the top, No. 1, numero uno, on my personal list.

If I had to choose between dentists and snakes, I’d take the snakes every time.

I not only am terrified of dentists, I find it almost impossible to consider making a call for an appointment. Usually, the pain has to come before I make the call.

Researching sources on dental phobias, many say you must find the dentist right for you, that it must be someone you trust. That’s all well and good, but I can tell you right now there’s not one out there (for me).

This well-meaning source also informed me that I would be paying for the service, and that if I wasn’t happy I should “interview” other dentists to find one that is right for me. I really don’t have that many years left.

It is estimated that as many as 75 percent of U.S. adults experience some degree of fear of dental work, from mild to severe. From my personal history, I know I’m either in the “severe,” and probably in “severe-plus” category

I’m told people who are very fearful of the dentist’s office (like me) often experience a "cycle of avoidance," in which they avoid dental care due to fear, until they experience a dental emergency requiring invasive treatment, which can reinforce their fear of dentistry.

Women tend to report more such fears than men, and younger people tend to report being more fearful than older individuals. I don’t believe all I read, since I have to look in the mirror.

People tend to report being more fearful of more invasive procedures, such as oral surgery, than they are of less invasive treatment, such as professional dental cleanings, which might seem obvious. Me? I don’t even like walking past a dentist’s office.

Over the years my dental phobia has grown to the point that I’ve been known to call dentists and tell them I don’t like them. They may be wonderful individuals outside the office ... but “they’re dentists!”

Over the past 10 years I’ve had major surgery three times, but no dental procedures. It’s apparent that I’m living in the “avoidance cycle.”

I guess I’ve been through all the cycles of life: tricycle, bicycle, motorcycle and now the avoidance cycle. Hopefully, I’ll find no snakes or dentists in the coming year.


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