Dentistry is my biggest passion in life…Okay, that’s a lie. My biggest passions are my dog and ice cream. But dentistry is in the top ten (somewhere below Netflix but above excessive use of parentheses and writing long blog posts when my office manager only asks for 2-3 paragraphs), which is why it makes me sad when people tell me, “I hate the dentist!” They usually go on to reassure me they don’t hate me, specifically, just dentistry in general. And then my question is, “Why?” Answers vary, but frequently it all boils down to one thing: dental fear and anxiety.
Why Do People Have Dental Fear?
An estimated 45-75% of Americans experience dental anxiety, with 5-10% experiencing such extreme fear they’re unable to go to the dentist at all. That’s millions of people at least somewhat frightened of the dentist. So what’s with all the fear? Why are people so scared of me (besides the obvious, which is that I am super strong and intimidating)?
Maybe it’s because when some people think of the dentist, they picture Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors, or maybe it’s because they’ve heard about a bad experience their mother’s uncle’s cousin’s daughter’s friend had once. There’s no “one size fits all” answer, but we have been able to identify the most common sources of fear:
- Poor past experiences. Two-thirds of responders in a survey of dental fear report gaining their fear in childhood, with most of the remainder acquiring it during adolescence
- Pain. Whether from the procedure itself or the injection required (more than half of fearful patients worry about the pain associated with dental injections)
- Feeling of being powerless/helpless
- Smells, sights, or sounds
- Past history of abuse
The Downside of Dental Fear
Despite the variety of reasons a person might be fearful, all dental fear can lead to the same negative results, the biggest of which is a delay or decreased utilization of dental services. In the above surveys, it was found that 5-20% patients canceled, avoided, or missed appointments due to fear. With what results?
- Increased risk of dental decay, periodontal disease, and tooth loss.
- Extra cost. Delaying treatment could mean the difference between a small filling versus a root canal, build-up, and crown at about a tenfold price increase.
- Pain and discomfort. Avoiding the dentist will likely result in toothaches and pain.
- Wasted time. Complex dental procedures mean extra hours in the dental chair.
Spoiler alert: this is not going to improve anyone’s dental anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle.
How We Help You Deal With Dental Fear
So we can determine the “why” of dental anxiety. We know the negative consequences. We even know the prevalence and statistics. Unfortunately, knowing these things doesn’t actually solve the problem. If life was that easy, we’d have world peace and fiber internet everywhere by now (Google Fiber reps, if you’re reading this, I’ve got a great suggestion for where to install next). However, it does give us a good starting point, and at Silberman Dental Group, here are some of the ways we’re using this information to make your visit more comfortable, enjoyable, and way less scary:
Education, Information, and Communication
One of the scariest things about dentistry is that you don’t necessarily know what’s happening. So we’re happy to discuss any concerns you might have, and to explain our treatment recommendations (and the reasoning behind them) in as much (or as little) detail as you need. If you’re the type of person that wants me to tell you about each step of a procedure before I do it, that’s fine. If you’re the type that would rather close your eyes, pop in your earbuds, and proceed to ignore me for the next hour, that’s fine, too. We’ll cater to your personal comfort level and desired amount of explanation. It’s your body, you get to make the final decision—nothing is ever done without your consent.
Was your last cleaning a couple years ago? Was your last cleaning never? Embarrassed about your teeth? Hey, that’s what we’re here for. We’re never going to judge you for how your teeth look. We love having people come in who are ready to make a change and take charge of their oral health, no matter how things were before.
A Fun, Friendly Dental Office Environment
We’ve done the research, and we know there are a few things people prefer in their dental offices, so we’re happy to oblige:
- Office décor: Magazines, books, and decorations/adorned walls—we’ve got you (and some of our walls) covered. Fun fact: one piece of our décor is also a big part of the practice. We keep our milling machine, which we use to make crowns on the same day as your appointment, out in the waiting room. You can actually watch your (or someone else’s) crown being made. It’s really cool.
- Background music: If you come on a day when my iPod is playing, you’re welcome. If you come on a day when Dr. S has control of the radio…Sorry.
- Slightly cool temperature: You’ll probably walk past me in my office wearing two jackets with my little space heater cranked up. I suffer for you, dear patients.
Overcome Your Dental Fear
We’re constantly seeking to improve and find more ways to manage anxiety, whether it’s indirectly, by staying up-to-date with the latest techniques, equipment, and treatments to give you the best, most painless dentistry possible, or more directly, by using holistic methods.
Personally, I’ve done a lot of research into the effects of aromatherapy on dental anxiety, and hope we might be able to implement this in our office. Another thing I hope to one day try: Dental Therapy Dogs! Dogs have been proven to lower stress and anxiety, and have been used in service, therapy, and rehabilitation for many years. This practice is slowly spreading to dental offices and has thus far proven to be beneficial for both children and adults. My goal is to train my own dog, Raya, to become a certified therapy dog, and bring her into the practice maybe one day a week.
At Silberman Dental Group, we want to do whatever we can to help you manage your anxiety and have a comfortable, enjoyable experience. If you want me to sit down so we can do some guided imagery and imagine we’re on a beach, I can do that. Want me to tell stupid jokes and sing along to the music? Don’t worry, that’s already included (and maybe that’s the reason why some of you are afraid the dentist!).
Whatever you need, we’re here for you, and ready to get you in the best oral health of your life—without the fear.
This blog was originally written for The Silberman Dental Group by Dr. Rebecca Triplett.
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