My First Dental Experience…
When I was young, I hated the dentist. Even before I had any reason to, it scared me as much as anything I could think of. I cannot remember the first time it occurred to me, that I was scared of the dentist, it might have been a friend, or something I saw on television, or just the idea of letting a stranger poke around in my mouth. Whatever it was, it didn’t bode well for my first experience at the dentist office.
Where I grew up there was a travelling dental bus, not a full fledged clinic. The two communities it served were rural and too far away to warrant a home base. And so there was the bus, and one doctor who moved between them. The doctor was good at his job, but he was a single dentist servicing patients of all ages and he wasn’t ready for a six year old who had serious dental anxiety.
My first visit was actually incident free, because we weren’t having any work done, just a few x-rays. I was uncomfortable with the cleaning, and the dentist tried to explain how filling cavities would be done, and how the needle would numb me from any pain. He decided it would be best to surprise me with the needle in the chair, because imagining the pain over a week until the next appointment could only build up what was a relatively quick needle.
When it happened, I screamed, and I kicked my poor dentist hard enough to cause him to curse. I needed a needle multiple times and later had to have a root canal because my filling was improperly done with all the squirming. As frustrating and horrifying as the experience was for me, it’s not uncommon for young people to have an experience like it in the dental chair. Today about 8% of us avoid the dentist out of fear.
The first time you step foot into a dentist office it’s normal to be nervous. And it’s crucial that the early memories you have in the chair be positive, relaxing ones. Otherwise the damage can be worse in the long term and lead to a lifetime of anxiety at the dentist. Bring your children to the dentist as early as their first birthday to meet the dentist, learn about oral health, teething and baby tooth care. It’s important to make those first experiences positive, even subconsciously.
A Long History (And Myth) Of Fear…
One thing that lead to my fear in the chair was television and movies. Dentists don’t exactly have a good reputation on television. They’re seen as inflictors of pain, suffering and are so often portrayed as anti-social or twisted. In reality, dentists are anything but. 123 Dentists are members of the community, actively involved in sports, charities and the arts. They are health care providers, helping people live longer, healthier lives and many patients who receive regular cleanings never even get cavities to need that needle.
But where does the negativity come from? The first step to understanding the myth of dental fear is understanding it’s origins. Before the 1970’s and and many of the biggest advancements in modern dentistry, a trip to the dentist was a very different thing. Most of the procedures and treatments used today didn’t exist, or were too expensive. Anaesthetics weren’t as effective and precision numbing didn’t exist. Imagine getting a filling without it, and all of a sudden the needle used to numb your cheek isn’t so bad, is it?
Still, the myth evolved with films showing everything from dentists torturing patients to comedic portrayals of incompetence. Poorly educated patients never even realized the technology had improved and most of the fear had become baseless. Then in the late 1990’s another leap forward brought computers, lasers and other new tools to revolutionize the experience further. Today some cavities don’t even require a needle thanks to laser dentistry and digital x-rays are safer and more affordable than ever.
Passing Down Anxiety…
Today going to the dentist isn’t such a big deal, and the results are better than ever. Most 123 Dentist member clinics use composite (white) fillings, DIAGNOdent Lasers and Invisalign to make the visual, uncomfortable experiences a thing of the past. But we don’t even realize that as parents we pass down our own negative experiences to our children. That’s why it’s important to tackle your own dental fear along with preparing your children for an anxiety free experience.
When I had to visit the dentist as a child, it was after my 6th birthday. My mother received dental insurance at her new job, and so I went for the first time. I didn’t have good brushing habits up to that point and so I had cavities from day one and my experience at the dentist became a ritual of painful needles and wining drills. The toy I got at the end was never enough, and it got to the point where I had to be bribed with toys and lego sets, or the dentist would again receive a good kicking.
With more diligent dental care from my mother and a few visits to the dentist for a cleaning before I needed fillings, and I might have a different set of teeth today. By the time I was 15 my fear was so bad that we had changed dentists three times and I had to have sedation dentistry to complete a total of 8 fillings on my upper and lower adult teeth. The cost was not covered by insurance and we couldn’t afford composite fillings so my mouth is full of silver now. Thinking back to that first visit, cleanings would have saved my family money even without insurance and I wouldn’t procrastinate on dental care, even though I work with dentists every day.
Overcoming Your Fear…
The first thing to consider is helping any children in your family overcome their fear. It’s easy to choose a dentist based on convenience of location or because they’ve been your dentist for a while, but be sure to choose a dentist who works well with children. Look for Paediatric Dentistry as a specialty if you have small children, and visit your 123 Dentist for a referral. All patient files are digitally transferrable and promotions are often available at multiple clinics too, so you can have all the perks of your current dentist and find the right person to treat your children. Good qualities in a dentist for your children are patience, a gentle touch, clear and kind communication and even a good sense of humour. You can also learn a lot by how the dentist you choose discusses fear and anxiety. If they’re dismissive of it, they may not be right for you.
As an adult, if you suffer from dental fear and anxiety, the first step is also clear communication, and you too may want to find a dentist that specialize in anxiety. Bring a friend with you to the dentist and even sit with them in the room. Take advantage of all the great distractions during treatment, like in-ceiling television and music options. Some clinics even boast virtual reality headsets to transport you somewhere else. Talk to your dentist or even a medical doctor about breathing exercises to manage anxiety and prepare yourself mentally by remembering a few key things: First, going to the dentist has improved a lot, in many cases there is no pain at all, and if you have healthy teeth you can keep it that way with regular cleanings every 6 months. Second, technology has improved to make some fillings and other restoration needle and pain free. Finally, remember that it’s over quickly and most patients agree their fear seems less important after the fact. Most procedures are quicker or less painful than you imagine.
For patients with serious anxiety that cannot be fixed with mental preparation, consider a few other options. Many 123 Dentist clinics offer sedation services, both with IV Conscious Sedation, Oral Sedation or Nitrous Oxide Gas. The procedures do have an extra charge, but they can be particularly useful if you have high levels of anxiety or have multiple procedures to go through. Once again, you have the option of being referred by your current 123 Dentist to another member in our network, and the switch is temporary and your files are digitally transferred to make things easier.
It Gets Easier With Time…
For me, going to the dentist remained difficult into my twenties. By the time I left college I had finally developed good dental habits and I was lucky enough to avoid braces in high school. I even got to skip wisdom tooth extractions, but in my late twenties, those pesky extra teeth caught up to me and needed to be removed. Suffice to say I was not ready for or wanting of the procedure.
My dentist new I had anxiety and they referred me to a specialist nearby. The first appointment was just a consultation and I decided to use Oral Sedation to make things easier. An hour before my appointment I took several pills as prescribed by my dentist and was driven to the appointment by a friend. I remember the appointment, but I don’t remember it being painful or even unpleasant. The preparation I’d received before hand and the pills helped me overcome serious dental anxiety, proving that no matter how bad your previous experiences, you can keep your teeth healthy.
Today I look forward to going to the dentist again, especially now that I’m considering some whitening and minor straightening of my front teeth. Every day at work I see so many other patients who haven’t gotten around their own fear of the dentist, and to them I say this. Understand your fear, and where it comes from. Face it with a friend and find a dentist you can trust. If that’s not enough, consider sedation and before you know it, you’ll be right as rain. It worked for me, and with a little courage, it will for you too.