Many years ago, there was a logical link between being scared of the dentist and the “tooth carpentry” approach to dentistry. Dentistry has come so far since then, yet those phobias persist.
I think a lot of the stigma associated with dentistry and dentists has to do with children’s first dental experiences and the teachings of their parents in their early years.
Parents will often say to their children, “If you don’t brush your teeth, I’m going to take you to the dentist” or “If you eat too many lollies, you’ll have to go to the dentist and they’ll tell you off.” They tend to cast the dentist in a negative light.
Dental anxiety can also be created if people are only going to the dentist when they have a problem. Often, in that situation, something extensive then needs to be done and therefore they find it a difficult experience. Prevention is a lot better.
In the majority of cases though, dental anxieties are unfounded. In my 15 years of experience, I’ve seen many anxious clients, but generally they end up having such an amazing experience that we change their perceptions.
A lot of this has to do with the changing attitudes and approaches of not just dentistry, but dentists as well. Over time, dentists have come to understand the importance of a chairside manner. We’ve become a lot more pleasant and have learnt to view dental treatment as a partnership with the patient rather than taking an authoritarian approach.
Dentists today appreciate the necessity of having strong communication skills and understanding how much psychology comes into play. We are there to help alleviate pain rather than to inflict pain and we want our patients to know that.
There have been other advances too—that traditional, clinical ‘smell’ of dentistry is long gone, with dentists today valuing the importance of performing within a pleasant environment. Being on top of technology has also helped to minimise any discomfort, while oral health education has played a big part as well. Fluoride in the water has presented kids with less tooth decay, making their early dental experiences a lot more positive.
These days we go beyond just fixing teeth, to trying to solve other issues so people can be more aware of the health of their mouth generally and empowering our clients to understand the disease process. Some clients will voice the frustration—”every time I go to a dentist, I need a filling”—and that simply shouldn’t be the case.
Once we resolve those other issues and educate our clients, people will generally need little dental work done beyond regular preventative maintenance—and hopefully soon, dental anxiety will be a thing of the past.
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