Fear of the Dentist | Linden, NJ | Isaac Menasha, DDS
If you ask me to name something that is scary, I would start to list names of movie characters such as Jason, Freddy Kruger, Leatherhead…Usually horror movies come to mind. For some people, something scary can be a phobia such as arachnaphobia (fear of spiders) or acrophobia (fear of heights) or taphephobia (fear of losing your teeth).
Dental Phobia is a fear of dentists that prevents a person from going to the dentist at all. Dental anxiety is extremely common and it is estimated that 10% to 15% of Americans avoid seeing the dentist because of anxiety and fear. What is it about the mention of the word dentist that brings us to a paralyzing halt? Over the years, a lot of patients during our first conversation have told me “I hate you, not you personally, but the dentist”. I cannot take this personally or else I would never be practicing dentistry. What my patients are really telling me is that “I am scared” and “I don’t want you to hurt me”. At this point, the patient will recall the whole event as if it happened yesterday. They begin to tell their story and remember the name of the dentist who hurt them. Our memories throughout our lives have an emotional component attached to them. As is the case here, my patient is feeling the pain as she is describing her past experience. It is as real to her now as it was when it happened years ago.
On the other hand, we also experience pleasant feelings with our feel good memories. As we remember the good times in our lives such as a great vacation, the day when you were proposed to, your first child being born, holidays, birthdays… the list goes on, the positive emotional feelings are always felt when we recall these memories. Most of us make decisions based on our emotions and unfortunately for a lot of people, their fear and anxiety of experiencing pain deters them from either calling the dentist, making an appointment, maintaining consistent checkups or following through with recommeded necessary treatments.
In the dental office, our fear and anxiety are heightened by our other senses such as hearing the sound of the drill, the sound of the scraping of the teeth while getting a cleaning, the sight of pointy instruments, the smell of some of the dental supplies as well as the touch of a professionals fingers in your mouth. When we meet someone for the first time, we make sure that we maintain a certain distance between ourselves and the person we are talking to. It is our invisible barrier that we do not want that person to cross and make us feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately when you visit the dentist for the first time, fear and anxiety can be elevated because the invisible barrier that you come to rely on when first meeting someone is no longer there. The dentist has to “invade” your personal safety zone in order to check your mouth and teeth. There are other professions that invade your personal space such as a visiting your primary doctor for a physical, seeing a gastroenterologist and seeing a urologist. We feel uncomfortable when we have to make these appointments and we don’t like to feel this way.
From the first step into our office, you are filled with smells of apple and cinnamon, a calming relaxing smell. To most people, the smell of desert, especially apple pie brings feelings of comfort. We don’t want our office to smell like a typical dental office, we want it to smell like something that brings about good memories and the good emotions attached with it. Our dental chairs are in rooms that have a tropical smell that you can associate with visiting the carribean. We also have televisions in each of our operatories for the patient to help them feel comfortable and keep their minds off the procedures. We offer Nitrous Oxide Gas as an option to help you feel more relaxed at your visit. We use topical anesthetic prior to the injection to make the procedure as painless as possible. We listen your concerns and do our best to make you feel as comfortable as possible.
It is time for Dentistry to be a pleasant experience and give people in the community an opportunity to start coming back to the dentist. It is time to stop neglecting your oral health. In my experience, common symptoms that develop by avoiding the dentist are bleeding gums, cavities, bone loss, loose teeth, broken teeth and gum disease. Some of these conditions elicit pain and the patient will wait until they cannot tolerate it anymore before rounding up the courage to call any dentist who will see them as soon as possible. They come to the dentist to help them out of pain (usually an extraction), and then disappear until the next dental crisis arises. Paralyzing fear will keep these patients away until they are forced to call the dentist again. It does not have to be this way. During the visit as I described above in our office, there are certain aspects of the dental visit that the dentist can control to make you feel more comfortable. We have patients in our office who like to bring music and wear headphones to help them tune out the sounds of the office that elevate their anxiety. I encourage my patients to bring anything that may help them to have a positive experience in our office.
We cannot expect the anxiety and fear to completely go away, but if we listen to you and work with you to make your visit as comfortable as possible, then we can manageyour fears and anxieties and lessen your discomfort in our office. Hopefully, we will be on the right track to help you overcome some of the barriers which are preventing you from attaining an optimal level of oral health.