Getting Healthy

From the psychiatric couch to the dental chair

Conquering fears


A dentist’s office seems like a strange place for a psychotherapist to practice.

Though it may seem counterintuitive to mix dental hygiene with mental health, it makes perfect sense when considering how many people hold deeply rooted fears of the dentist.

That’s where Kimberly Kleinman, a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety, comes in. She has been helping people overcome their fears since 1981 and recently expanded her practice to include “emotional preparation for dental procedures.”

“It’s a real opportunity for a child to be able to master something in an appropriate way,” the 53-year-old said. “They’ll learn to really face fears … it could have an impact on their character development.”

In September, Ms. Kleinman moved into office space she shares with dentists in The Century building, at 2600 Netherland Ave. Concentrating on treating those who are afraid to go to the dentist then became a “no brainier,” she said.

Ms. Kleinman works closely with a pediatric dentist. When the dentist comes across a particularly fearful patient, he refers them to Ms. Kleinman for treatment. So far, the psychotherapist said she has worked with five dentist-phobic youths.

Ms. Kleinman emphasized that every child is different, but outlined the steps she uses to help them get over their fears. Although most of Ms. Kleinman’s patients are 2 to 15 years old, she said adults are afraid of the dentist, too, and sometimes they pass their fears on to their children. So she starts by talking to her pediatric patients’ parents, she said.

“Having someone have their hands in your mouth can be very upsetting,” Ms. Kleinman said. “It’s a very personal space.”

Next, Ms. Kleinman holds a session with the child, asking them to tell her exactly what they are afraid of and why. She uses vacant dentists’ offices to explain procedures to children in “age-appropriate” terms, something not all doctors are good at, she said. When they are ready, Ms. Kelinman accompanies them to the chair.

One “dramatic” case involved a patient so terrified of the dentist that doctors said he was going to need general anesthesia to undergo a procedure. He was referred to Ms. Kleinman, who helped her patient avoid that fate.

“After one session with me he was able to completely cooperate,” she said.

In addition to helping those with anxiety about going to the dentist, Ms. Kleinman works with patients who suffer from generalized anxiety at another Riverdale office, off of Henry Hudson Parkway.

Ms. Kleinman teaches toddler, child and adolescent development in several training programs, including one at the New York Institute for Psychotherapy Training.