You are not alone! For years I never truly understood it. I grew up going to a family dentist and never minded my visits. I would brush my teeth and go to my check-up like any other doctor appointment. Yes, I had my share of childhood cavities like all of us, but I got through it, and I actually liked him. He was young, cool, talked about sports and played good music (I guess I learned a lot from him). At that time, I didn’t have any thought of a future in dentistry, but I never minded the experience.
Then it happened. I became a dentist. Interested in science and an altruistic desire to help people. But I began to meet people who either didn’t go to the dentist at all, or were fear-ridden of their next visit. I didn’t understand. I think I’m a nice guy, pretty gentle and I play whatever music they like....what was it?
My investigation began. Along with my focus in science throughout college, I was a psychology major as well. So, it was time to learn more about these patients who dreaded their next visit, or didn’t go at all. After doing some research into behavioral studies on this topic, I discovered that the #1 reason people didn’t go to the dentist was fear of pain. I get it. However, there are ways to eliminate that in most circumstances. But, history is hard to erase. Most patients had a story. They go something like “I wasn’t really numb at my dentist and he didn’t care…,” or “I had my dentistry done over 40 years ago, and he didn’t bother getting me numb at all....,” and so on. I have patients who ran out of offices decades ago, and now are just coming back. I have had to reintroduce dentistry to them as if it’s the first time. A mentor of mine in dental school once said, “Make your patients comfortable, and they will be your patients for life!” So, pain-free is key.
The next chief complaint is sound. Yes, we all hate the sound of that drill. It’s getting better and quieter. And hopefully in my lifetime it will be replaced, but we’re not quite there yet.
However, I have found that music is a great answer. If you are tapping to a beat, or relaxing to a symphony you enjoy, make it loud enough and all else won’t matter.
Yes, there are those exceptions. Some patients need a bit more hand-holding. And, that’s OK. Make sure your dentist can do that for you. There are many relaxation techniques available for before and during your visit that will truly change your experience.
So, I’ve come to realize, it’s not me, or any of my colleagues. Yes, I know you would rather see us socially than in the chair. Most people would rather be playing tennis, golf, watching a movie or doing anything else. However, it’s a part of maintaining your overall health. Believe it or not, I have many patients who like coming. They enjoy maintaining their oral health as well as electively choosing procedures to feel good about their smiles.
So, the next time you lose sleep about your next visit, or feel very anxious, realize you are not alone. Dentistry has come a long way.
“Don’t let your fear of what could happen make nothing happen!”
With Dr. Brian M. Kalb