In the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” But he was merely talking about the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor and not the crippling fear that many people experience when faced with the going to the dentist.
Dental Phobia is an actual clinical term that means THE FEAR OF DENTISTS. If you are one of the millions of people who suffer from this common phobia, you are likely shaking your head “YES” right now.
There’s a paradox about Dental Phobia that is fascinating. Studies show that dentists are consistently ranked as among the most trusted professionals. Yet, fear of actually visiting the dentist is so much a reality for so many people, that it can’t be ignored.
To avoid feeling the fear, thousands of people (even when in pain) can’t pick up the phone to schedule that long overdue dental appointment. Dental Phobia can be so overwhelming that it can lead to years of procrastination. Procrastination is often why a small problem, such as a tiny cavity, can becomes a very BIG and COSTLY problem (which only helps to reinforce one’s anxiety-a real dental “Catch-22”).
Thanks to the entertainment media, fear of the dentist is deeply woven into our collective consciousness. Just think of films such as Marathon Man, Little Shop of Horrors, The Dentist, etc. and you know what I’m referring to. Modern folklore, too, can reinforce some common myths that are associated with dental treatment. For some, just the phrase root canal is enough to bring on images of pain and suffering.
(Check out Painless Root Canal: An Oxymoron? In this post I demystify the procedure. Find the link the end of this this article]
LET’S BREAK DOWN DENTAL PHOBIA AND SEE WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON
Here’s some good news: Dental Phobia is so commonplace that most dentists address it as one of the most essential parts of their daily practice.
I’ve been a dentist for over 30 years. I have discovered that my most anxious and fearful patients are singularly scared of one specific thing: THE NEEDLE.
Whether it is a carry-over from childhood or the impact of an unpleasant adult experience, fear of getting a shot, especially in the mouth, is an almost universally shared emotion. But here’s what is crucially important for you to understand: nearly every needle-phobic patient who has ever sat in my chair has been able to overcome their fearful angst simply by receiving calming and reassuring words of encouragement, having a the comforting hand of an empathetic assistant to hold, and the application of lots and lots of topical (on the gum) anesthetic before the deed is done.
For dental phobic patients the next hurdle happens at the point when the feeling of numbness has spread and treatment commences. Many people experience unease that the injection has fully deadened the area to be treated. This feeling of angst is palpable and can be described as a disquieting ANTICIPATION OF PAIN that could rear its head at any moment. Add to that the THE SHRILL OF THE DRILL, THE STEADY SPRAY OF WATER (images of waterboarding), and THE SMELL of burning tooth.
(FYI, that telltale smell is not because a tooth is incinerated. The odor is actually from pulverized tooth (and sometimes old filling material) that is being dispersed by in a combination of air and water from the dental hand piece.)
If you have ever experienced an unexpected jolt of pain during a dental procedure, the memory is both long lasting and visceral. The fearful patient will wait with apprehension for that jolt to come. Even if it happened only once and it was years and years in the past, the feelings of dread can readily surface. Again, reassuring words, a compassionate hand to hold, plenty of anesthetic and allowing enough time for complete numbness to set in has proven to be the magic combination that gets patients to calm down a bit. A set of headphones with music is also a pleasant distraction.
Dentistry has come a long way in the past few decades. Great advances have been made in the delivery of care, especially in management of anxiety, fear and pain control. Comfortable and nearly painless care is not just a reality today. It is an essential reality. My staff and I are proud to have built a practice known to deliver care in a trusting and caring environment.
IF YOUR DENTAL PHOBIA IS SEVERE, HERE’S A SUGGESTION:
Is this you? If you’ve avoided making a dental appointment because the thought of the treatment paralyzes you, may I make this suggestion: call and ask for a CONSULTATION VISIT ONLY. Go and meet the dentist with the knowledge that NOTHING will be done to you on that day. Then decide for yourself if this dentist, this office staff, and you, are a comfortable fit.
If you approach the consultation is if you were conducting a job interview…to hire someone…you will feel more in control. You’re in the driver’s seat. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to say you’re afraid. And make sure all your concerns are addressed before you leave. If one practice isn’t a good fit, try another.
Do you suffer from Dental Phobia? Have you found ways to overcome it? I’d love to hear your feedback.
Michael Sinkin practices cosmetic, implant, and restorative dentistry in New York City. He is known for the wonderful care he provides to his patients and for his wicked sense of humor. To contact Dr. Sinkin, click here.