Have you stayed away from the dentist due to fear?

Several weeks ago, I conducted an informal survey on Facebook about why patients don’t go to the dentist.  In this week’s blog, I will discuss a different result, and some reasons to overcome this reasoning, plus some suggestions about how to manage this problem.

I’m too scared to go to the dentist!

This answer makes me so very sad. I, too, am a product of dental care delivered in a time before good bedside manner was as important as clinical skill.  My childhood dentist didn’t wear gloves or a mask, he didn’t often give me anything to numb my discomfort, he used extremely old-fashioned materials and techniques (even for the time). My mom used to sit in the corner of the room, reading a book while I yelled and cried because everything hurt…because this had been her childhood dentist, and that was just the way things were. I only learned at 16 years old (after years of fillings and baby-tooth pulling without a drop of dental freezing) that dentistry didn’t actually have to hurt when I visited the dentist of a friend, and I count myself so lucky that I did!

But why does dentistry always have to hurt?

I would say that these days, dentistry should always be able to be relatively painless!  I respectfully add that if anyone reading this is still consistently having painful dental visits…you may belong with a different dental family. We tell every patient that sits down in our chairs that we have drawers full of medication to make what we do more comfortable, and that we give no awards for bravery–if something hurts, SAY SO! And we will change how we are treating you so you can be comfortable. But if our patients don’t tell us something is uncomfortable, we can’t help them…and this is a common problem. Unfortunately, when patients have uncomfortable dental visits, especially because they aren’t communicating what they need to our team, we can’t change perceptions that dentistry has to hurt.

In fact, we feel so strongly about doing whatever we can to make a patient comfortable, we actually have a questionnaire that every patient completes called Handle Me With Care. This helps us know exactly the ways you would like us to help you have the best possible dental experience. Other dental offices may also do what they can to make you comfortable, but we want our patients to know we take this very seriously.

And now I’ve put this off for so long, I’m afraid what the dentist will think of me…

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for us to see patients who haven’t visited a dentist in 5, 10 even 20 years! We do truly believe that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away from dental care, what matters is getting back on the bus and starting again.  If you are in our office, and you KNOW it’s been a long time, we don’t need to remind you, or guilt you about that. The day you come in asking for our help is day 1 of our relationship.  No judgement. If that’s not the experience you have at the dental office you visit, it’s time for a change.

Also, now I’m also afraid of what they will find…what has to be done…

The funny thing is…avoiding dental care doesn’t make you have cavities and gum disease. However, having a schedule of routine care helps your dentist diagnose problems when they are smaller and easier to deal with.We have had patients return to dental care after many years away and be pleasantly surprised that the problems we find are fairly small and not difficult to handle…but of course the opposite is true. Just because you don’t know exactly what the problems are doesn’t mean they don’t exist…and sooner is always better than later to treat, while the potential options are several.

This is not your grandmother’s dentistry!

Dentistry has come a long way over the years, and there are so many terrific options for treatment that a dentist who stays up to date with training can provide. I’ve been practicing dentistry for more than 20 years, and there’s almost no treatment I provide the same way I did when I graduated dental school. Materials are stronger and more esthetic, treatments are faster and more varieties of options exist to have a healthy mouth.

I know you said it’s easier now, but I still don’t think I can “handle” having treatment.

NuCalm is one of the ways we can help patients have a relaxing dental appointment

NuCalm is one of the ways we can help patients have a relaxing dental appointment

If this is you, some form of sedation might be the right answer. Options for this vary from taking a small pill before an appointment, to nitrous oxide (laughing gas), to IV sedation. In fact, there is even a cool new technology called NuCalm that mimics the effects of meditation! Our patients have used all of these anxiety-relieving options and they all have a place in our practice. Ask your dentist if they have sedation options to offer, or if they can refer you to an office that has these available so you can have the healthiest mouth possible.

Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at kanatacosmeticdentist.com Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer!