Dentophobia, a fear of the dentist — is truly alive in this day and age! Trust me, I know. The number of times I get a new client saying, “No offense, but I hate going to the dentist!” And I can understand. I’ve even suffered from dentophobia myself — when I was 12 years old, I ran away from the dentist when my parents took me along for a checkup after I saw injections on the bench top! True story. Maybe that’s why I am more sensitive to my client’s fears today as a dentist.
Many studies have been done on dentophobia and one of the biggest reasons for fear of the dentist is financial barriers because good dental care is expensive in Australia. And as life gets expensive and in the absence of any pain, the cost of going to a dentist gets pushed down the to-do list. However, there’s a catch. The longer you leave things, the more expensive they get.
It’s also about time management. Most people — particularly working parents with children — lead very busy lives, and they don’t make the time to schedule dental visits. It’s easy for these to slip through the net, and before you know it, a few years have gone by just like that! It’s worth adding any appointments on your calendar.
Another reason is a fear of being told off or lectured. Many of us avoid the dentist because of a feeling of guilt. But people need to realise that we’re not going to be judging them. Nobody likes to get lectured about their dental health… we get it!
Another big reason for avoiding the dentist is that dentistry hurts. Well, let me qualify that — the longer you avoid the dentist, the more involved it becomes fixing problems, and so the more potential for pain. But dental anaesthetics have improved greatly over the past 10 years. Even for extremely phobic clients, we don’t use sedatives in my practice. There are other effective methods such as anti-medications, anxiolytics that we prescribe to clients when necessary.
If it doesn’t hurt…
One reason a lot of people don’t visit dentists as often as they should is a low-perceived need. People often think, if it doesn’t hurt, why do I need to get anything done? Right?
This is far from the truth. Problems with your oral health can sometimes take a long time to develop, and you don’t always physically feel it happening. If these problems are detected early, the treatments are quick and easy. If they develop into something that is causing you immediate pain, they are complex and expensive to fix.
Whatever your reasons for avoiding the dentist, be aware that you could be doing more harm than you realise by postponing that appointment. Dental complications are the third biggest cause of preventable hospitalisations in this country. About 63,000 people per year get sent to hospital because of dental issues that could easily have been prevented.
What people need to get their heads around is that it actually costs a lot more to fix things as the problem gets worse. Preventative dentistry is a lot cheaper!
The bottom line is that it’s about prioritising. It’s very easy to push that dental appointment down your list of priorities but it’s a real mistake to make.
Invest in a dentist who cares
It’s a matter of finding a reputable dentist — someone with whom you can build rapport and trust. You can have open communication with your dentist, and not feel like you’re being judged.
How do you find a reputable dentist? Ask your friends and acquaintances. When they give you some names, do a little research — Google them, or have a look at their social media presence, and see if you can get a feel for the level of empathy and care they have for their patients.
I understand that dentaphobia is a massive problem. This is one of the reasons I’ve spent a lot of time and effort in re-creating the dental experience in my practice, and the reason I’ve built it in a certain way.
The environment here at The Dental Room is very different from that of your typical practice. It doesn’t sound or smell like a dental clinic. The decor is very, very different. We understand that people are anxious about coming to a dentist and we want to change those stereotypes.
Tell your dentist about your fear of the dentist
That said, clients need to be honest with their dentists about their fears because communication is always the best way to develop that positive dental experience.
Rather than looking at the whole process and getting anxious, come in, talk to your dentist or hygienist and start the process. Dental phobia’s not uncommon; a good dentist will help you get through this.
Plan for dental treatment
If there’s a lot of work to be done, how do you come up with a suitable plan? How do you stage your treatment? That’s a common issue, particularly for time-poor working mums. With a good dentist, you can work together on a treatment plan that works for your budget and your schedule.
These days, there are financial services such as Zip Money — handy if you don’t have the cash up front.
Payment plans are also available but try not to use finances as an excuse to postpone treatment. Fixing things now could prevent a lot of problems later. Remember, the cost just goes up the longer you leave it.