Take The Horror out of Dentistry

In traditional Halloween style, I think it is important to bring to light the parts of dentistry that make patients cringe the most. With the contribution of www.hatedentists.com, some cringe-worthy reasons most patients fear the dentist (or even hate the dentist) are the following: The Needle, the pain, the drill, and the invasiveness. Dr. Joe Bulger does write in his blog post that patients find scary stories more entertaining than those stories in which everything goes well and compares dental horror stories to spooky campfire tales; unfortunately, unlike those fictional campfire tales, the tales of the dentist (very real to all patients) these stories tend to stick like a melting gummy worm to your teeth.

Why? How can a spooky story, lyric, or character in a movie or TV show leave such a lasting impact on the way people view dentists and the entire dentistry profession, and more importantly how can you and your team change that? To answer these questions, we should take a closer look at each of the fears associated with dentists one-by-one and how some have been manipulated by the media to become the central theme in that spooky campfire tale.

 

The Needle

There is no one I know that considers the needle in a dental office as a source of relief. Needles, big or small, cause pain. Injection phobia exists in a large part of the population. According to an article about this particular phobia on dentalfearcentral.org, “some people are phobic to the point of avoiding injections at all costs.” The fear varies from person to person, but it is there and it is definitely a fear all dental professionals should be aware of. I was regaled with the specific size and length of the needle. The storyteller wasn’t exaggerating more than he was expressing his viewpoint on the entire experience.  

Solution: Clearly, pain cannot be avoided, however there are ways in which it can be lessened for the sake of the anxious patient. Some patients will have a higher lower pain threshold than others and it is important to address pain issues with all patients to become better educated on your patient’s specific needs. Some suggestions for those unable to handle pain or are entirely too anxious in the chair are numbing gels, and sedation dentistry in which your patient can be put under while the procedure is being performed.

 

The Pain

Again, this is not something any of us associate with a particularly relaxing experience. Pain is what brings about that feeling of anxiety, a feeling sometimes so powerful it can literally paralyze you. The pain is brought up in songs and even movies to emphasize this horrific element of dentistry. Examples in mainstream media include lyrics from Cranium’s “Dentist of Death” in which the band describes being at the dentist like this: “you’re strapped in the chair / Your brain explodes with pain, and then you’re dead.”

In the movie, Marathon Man, the Nazi dentist uses his dental tools to inflict pain as a form of torture. These are only two of the many depictions of pain and anxiety associated with the dentist.

Solution: Clearly, pain cannot be avoided, however there are ways in which it can be lessened for the sake of the anxious patient. Some patients will have a higher lower pain threshold than others and it is important to address pain issues with all patients to become better educated on your patient’s specific needs. Some suggestions for those unable to handle pain or are entirely too anxious in the chair are numbing gels, and sedation dentistry in which your patient can be put under while the procedure is being performed.

 

The Drill

This particular dentistry tool in your office is under a lot of scrutiny and the subject of horrific scenarios in our mainstream media. To name just a few:

  • Supernatural— in the episode “You Can’t Handle the Truth” a dentist who learns of his patient’s cruel intentions towards his daughter uses the drill not to just inflict pain but to kill.
  • Galahad takes it so far as to associate the sound and feel of the drill with harm to their inner self with the lyrics “I hear the sound of a drill edging closer / Making contact with my inner self.”
  • Alice Cooper uses the sound of the drill to emphasize his utterly horrific song “Unfinished Sweet” in which he talks of the dentist as a sadist, saying “my teeth are okay, but my gums gotta go.”

Clearly, the drill is a source of the anxiety that patients feel when having to visit the dentist. How do you, as a dental professional change this?

Solution: Make sure your equipment is updated and that your patients are completely comfortable in the chair. Education is always key to relieving anxiety, so having a discussion with your patient about their fear of the drill can reduce the horror for that particular tool.

 

The Invasiveness

Some people prefer their personal space to be clear of disturbances, so when you come into the mouth with your fingers and your tools, the invasion can cause high anxiety or even fear. Nobody particularly enjoys this part of the procedure and, unfortunately, this too has been a sore spot for the mainstream media to poke at.

In Psychostick’s cleverly written song “The Root of all Evil,” they add this rather graphic imagery, emphasizing on and exaggerating the invasive dental procedures. “smooth jazz adds to my misery (easy listening) / While they are raping my poor teeth.”

The idea that this lyric suggests a lack of consent to going this far into this patient’s mouth is truly horrifying.

Solution: Respect people’s personal space even if you have to invade it. Always ask about your patient’s comfort level and provide them with anything they might need in order to help them relax and trust you. Provide empathy, and always answer any questions your patients might have fully and honestly. Calm the waters before just diving in.

Halloween is just around the corner and with it come the spooky campfire tales about ghosts, vampires, zombies and, believe it or not, dentists. Use this Halloween to change people’s perspective on what you do and further help to reduce the fear that comes from some mainstream media.

 

Have a very happy and very safe Halloween!

 

Pumpkim halloween denstists

Resources

  1. http://www.hatedentists.com/1363/top-10-reasons-people-hate-dentists/
  2. http://practicemanagement.dentalproductsreport.com/article/13-scariest-dental-horror-stories-you-told-us?page=0,4
  3. http://www.avclub.com/article/i-know-the-drill-18-scary-depictions-of-dentistry-90619
  4. http://www.dentalfearcentral.org/fears/needle-phobia/