Health: Overcoming fear of dentists
Dentist phobia is as common as our love for food. SU AZIZ wonders how our food-obsessed society can overcome its fear and get into oral health
THE man pacing up and down the five-foot way seems to be perspiring profusely. And it’s an oddly cool, breezy day in Kuala Lumpur. For a long while, the stray cats lazing nearby observe the man with some annoyance — his pacing is interrupting their afternoon slumber.
Still, the man is unaware of the cats’ feral and hostile stares. Every few steps, he looks up to the signage just above a closed glass door. After a few seconds he looks away to continue with his pacing and wiping his forehead with a soaked, crumbly piece of lunch napkin.
The object of his fear and pain is a black-on-white signboard that announces a dental clinic and its services.
Now, stop for a minute. Could this be you? Would you rather face death than a dentist? Do you cancel your dental appointment a million times before you actually get yourself to one and it’s not because you’re as busy as a squirrel before winter? Any “yes” to the questions show a degree of dentist phobia. And it’s fine. There are many out there who fear dentists. In fact, I’m pretty sure dentists are more feared or disliked than Adolf Hitler ever was! Take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Apparently, three out of 10 people suffer from dentist or dental phobia.
At least, despite beliefs, a dentist is out there for your well-being. And his medical expertise keeps your teeth intact, which in turn allows for food to be chewed and enjoyed.
Also, let’s admit it, toothless grins are only charming on a 5-year-old but not even a 90-year-old can carry it off. The latter group simply looks rather silly, if not downright eerie.
According to a website with a reference to DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), dentist phobia is a “marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable”. It seems a little unsympathetic but it's way better than to think of it as a mental disorder, no? So, let’s get to a few tricks on how to overcome your dentist phobia. As you’d know, the Internet is a wonderful source of information and below are just some lifted from various websites that has helped me in the past.
Find a supportive dentist From bupa.co.uk, it’s been reported that dentists are trained to take your fears seriously and deal with them sensitively. Some dentists specialise in treating nervous patients.
One way of finding a supportive dentist is by word of mouth. You may be able to get a recommendation from someone who has been to a dentist who was sympathetic to his or her needs.
Tell your dentist your secrets From the very beginning, be honest. The same website advises honesty in areas of: 1. Timing. Ask your dentist to let you go at your own pace. This way you are facing your fear and gradually overcoming it step by step.
2. Control. Talk to your dentist about having some control over the amount of treatment that you’re having done. You may feel more in control if you have a signal (raising your hand, for example) that lets the dentist know that you would like him or her to stop.
3. Specific concerns. If there are things you’re worried about or a traumatic experience, tell your dentist. Dentistry has advanced a great deal in recent years and there are many methods for controlling and relieving pain.
4. Choices. There are ways to help you relax, such as sedation and hypnotherapy. And remember, if you don’t feel comfortable with the first dentist you visit, you don’t have to go back to him again.
5. Time. Most of all, ask for time. When you make the appointment, let the dentist know you need a bit more time than others to settle down and get comfortable.
Get distracted Sometimes, focusing your attention on something more mundane helps in making yourself forget (temporarily) your phobia of dentists. The few tricks below might just work.
1. Talking: Have a chat with your partner before the treatment. Or your partner can accompany you during the treatment until it’s no longer possible, but ask your partner or dentist to keep chatting with you about an involving topic.
2. Plug in your favourite tunes. Immerse yourself in them and escape into another world. For some it may be audio books or a favourite radio talk show.
3. My personal trick is to schedule my dental check-up and scaling on the morning of a big date. That way I channel all my thoughts towards what to wear for the date, hair, make-up, which restaurant to recommend and the like. It may sound flaky but it sure helps in my hour of panic.
4. If all else fails, try hypnotherapy. It’s been known to help relieve anxiety.
Practice makes perfect Now, the good thing is, this is the month where you can have trial runs with a few dentists for free, thanks to Colgate’s Oral Health Month (OHM). This is the eighth such annual event created and hosted by Colgate-Palmolive with the support of the Malaysian Dental Association (MDA).
It offers free check-ups by dentists, educational displays and demonstrations, oral hygiene product trials, family-friendly activities, promotional offers on toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss and mouth rinses, as well as free product samples through a series of OHM marquees.
These marquees are held in select major locations in public shopping malls to accommodate the significant number of public visitors each year. Last year, more than 33,000 visitors benefited from educational activities through these major marquees.
In addition, Colgate will partner the MDA to offer free dental check-ups in 711 participating dental clinics this month. For the full list, log onto www.colgate.com.my and click onto the red and white banner on the right of the website that states Our Mission: Zero Cavities. Once there, click onto “Get A FREE Check Up” and you’re on your way! See? You’re first step closer to overcoming your fear. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Now, time to move to the next step. Don’t worry. This is merely a check-up. The dentist is merely going to take a look at your teeth and gums. Keep practising. Go to different dentists on the list or join their marquee for practice. Remember, it gets easier every time. And no, I wouldn’t lie to you.