When you hear the word DENTIST, what is the first word that comes to mind?
I asked this question to 50 people. Although I myself am a dentist, I tried to get honest answers. I didn’t ask patients who were sitting in my chair while I loomed over them in my white coat. I sent e-mails to people from my address book, most of whom are not my patients. The answers I received were more than I asked for.
I have been a dentist for 25 years, and I honestly love what I do. Many people ask me why I became a dentist, and I have come to realize it is because it provides the perfect combination of science and art, and being able to deal with people personally every day. I also have come to realize that most people hate “The Dentist”. Not me personally, but that entity that is a source of anxiety, pain and expense to them. I understand that their favorite part of a dental visit is the moment they are getting up from the chair and walking out the door. I thought I would start this blog to try to change the public’s perception of The Dentist by telling them about dentistry from my side of the dental chair. My thought was that information could minimize that fear, that knowledge would help people make dental decisions, but after getting feedback to my initial question of the word association with DENTIST, this goal no longer seems that easy.
About the responses, first I have to say that the replies were quickly made (some within minutes) and the number of replies was better than if I was looking for RSVP’s to a party invitation (I don’t know where Miss Manners has gone, but we need her back to teach people the lost art of common courtesy and manners to such things as RSVP, but that is another subject all together). These responders were indeed honest – their answers ranged from “pain”, “ouch!”, and “smelly”, to expletives I cannot repeat here. There were a total of 3 responses that I considered neutral, which were all “clean”. These people associated clean teeth or getting their teeth cleaned with DENTIST. There were hardly any positive responses to DENTIST, except those people that made a personal reference to me. (Thank you!)
What amazed me the most was that the majority of the responders also felt the need to explain their answer, at great length. I read horrific stories of people who are now in the 40’s and 50’s, being held down in the dental chair as a child, had cavities filled without local anesthetic (novocaine), and when they cried out in pain they were yelled at, punished, and even hit by the dentist! One person even told me they jumped out of the chair, climbed through a window, fled from the dentist and rode his bike all the way home alone. Another person told me that due to a dental experience he had when he was 9 years old, to this day, he starts every dental appointment by saying his personal mantra, to the dentist, which is, “ If you hurt me, I will hurt you.” This may seem harsh, but at least this person goes to the dentist, on his own terms, and sets up boundaries. These people were abused – physically and psychologically, and it has scarred them for life.
As a dental professional, I would like to apologize for those dentists before me that caused all this horror. I am sorry for your pain. I am sure those dentists were never told anything about a chairside manner or patient comfort.
So my mission of trying to create a positive association with dentistry now appears to be an arduous task! How can I expect you to smile and look forward to something that was torture? I am willing to give it a try, if you are willing to hear me out. I want to know how I can break down this barrier between the dentist and the patient, how can we get a positive association with The Dentist.
For those of you who have these terrible associations with The Dentist, here are some thoughts for you.
1. First, before you even set foot in a dental office, think of what specifically bothers you the most about the experience. It could be the smell, the sound of the equipment, the pain of the injection, the fear you won’t get enough anesthetic, or the anxiety of not knowing how long it will take.
2. Some of this you can try to control yourself, such as if it is the smell of the office or the materials while you are being treated, try putting on your favorite perfume or cologne just before you enter the office. If that isn’t strong enough, you can put some type of mentholatum rub or lip balm on your upper lip or under your nose, to mask the other smells of the dental office.
3. If the sound or noises bother you, bring headphones with your playlist ready with your favorite tunes.
4. As for the other issues, tell your dentist or hygienist before they start that there are a few things you just want to talk about to make the appointment easier for everyone. I try to initiate this type of conversation especially before the first time I treat a patient and I appreciate if they can tell me what bothers them the most.
5. If the injection bothers you, there is a topical gel that can be rubbed on the area prior to the injection to make it more comfortable. There are also different types of anesthetic, or novocaine – some is stronger than another, and some last longer than others. If a patient is afraid they won’t be numb enough, I joking tell them we will use the “high test” novocaine, which technically speaking is Articaine, and is stronger and lasts longer. Other people don’t like to feel numb after they leave the office, so I have to be sure to use the shorter acting anesthetic for them.
6. If it would make you feel better knowing how long it will take (approximately), kindly ask first if the dentist or hygienist could guess how long it will take. Then you can look forward to that time when you get to take the bib off and walk out the door!
7. Finally, and to me most importantly, you as the patient need to know that there is a way for you to have some control during the procedure and have a way of communicating with the dentist. I usually tell the patient that if for any reason they feel the need to stop and take a break, for them just to wave their hand at me. You can ask the dentist if this would be OK with them, in case they haven’t suggested this to you already.
I hope these ideas are helpful to you, whether you are a patient, a person who hasn’t been a patient in a long while, or even a dentist. I hope we can all try together to make the dental office a place we can smile about.