Hi, I recently had a dental checkup and was sent to an endontist for further evaluation. He upset me by telling me it does not look good and there is a lot of bone loss and asking me if I had any history of breast cancer. I do not. He is sending me to an oral surgeon to have the tooth removed and said they may need to do a biopsy. My husband is a cancer survivor and many friends suffer from it. I am terrified. I try not to worry about it but it is in my mind constantly. It does not help that I have to look up everything online..LOL Oh, I have had a terrible fear of dying ever since I can recall…Thank you

A: You’re terrified because cancer is terrifying. There’s nothing inappropriate or abnormal about your fear. Sadly, you’ve also lived in fear of death for a long, long time. That’s probably embedded in some experience that you never found a way to make sense of or put aside. I’m very sorry you’ve lived with that shadow. Now the shadow becomes more real.

The worst thing you can do is to put off getting whatever testing your dental specialists think necessary. Hopefully, there is another explanation for the bone loss. If you had braces on your teeth when you were young, for example, it’s possible the teeth were moved too far or too fast. Orthodontia has changed markedly since the 60s and 70s, resulting in less trauma to the mouth and better outcomes. But if your fear is confirmed and you do have a cancer, early detection is key to recovery. Don’t let your fear get in the way of getting a good assessment. Only then will you know what you’re dealing with and, if necessary, what treatment options are available to you.

Once you’ve coped with the dental issues, please consider talking to a counselor about your anxiety around death. We all die. As I’m close to you in age, I fully understand the sense that time is getting shorter. Death isn’t such an abstraction when friends start to sicken and pass on. On the other hand, you could live another 30 years or so. Coming to terms with the inevitable will let you live the time you have, whether a week or decades, with more joy and less anxiety.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Aug 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). Dental surgery prompts terror of death by cancer. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/08/26/dental-surgery-prompts-terror-of-death-by-cancer/

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