Dental Phobias

09 May 2015

How dentists are dealing with getting the phobics back into the chair



Heights. Clowns. Dentists? Studies by Peter Milgrom, DDS, director of the Dental Fears Research Clinic at the University of Washington in Seattle, estimate that 8% of Americans fear the dentist and almost 20% avoid going until absolutely necessary—many of whom live in the lowcountry! Local dentists, however, hope to convince you otherwise.

“You need to go to the dentist to keep your mouth and your smile healthy,” says Dr. Cason Hund, DMD, of Wando Family Dentistry in Mt. Pleasant. The ADA recommends twice-a-year check-ups, but Dr. Hund understands that fear often causes people to put off appointments. “You need to feel a good connection with your doctor. So if you’re nervous, I’d recommend coming in for a consultation first,” he suggests. “You’re not required to do anything that day except to have a conversation and see if you feel comfortable enough to come back for a check-up.”

While it seems more common that children fear the dentist, the anxiety, it seems, is just as prevalent in adults. “It’s the sound I fear the most. That ear piercing screech in my ears,” says Shannon Sioma. “It’s like nails on a chalkboard.” 

Then there are individuals, such as College of Charleston senior Jessica Baldwin, whose anxiety is extreme. “I’ve passed out in the waiting room. Three times,” she discloses. Her fear stems back to age six when she went for a procedure and wasn’t given enough Novocain, making the experience excruciatingly painful. Baldwin even admits to breaking down in tears when she simply runs into her dentist on the street. “But I still go. I still make the appointments when I need to,” she insists.

“Fearing the dentist is incredibly common,” says Dr. Amy Cooper of Park Circle’s Cooper Cosmetic & Family Dentistry. “More than half the people that come into this office are afraid.” Most fears, like Baldwin’s, are due to a negative childhood experience, she notes, but it’s definitely a broad spectrum. 

Not all individuals hate the bi-annual recommended trip to the dentist, however. Dr. Cooper’s patients, Pastor Wendy Hudson-Jacoby, and her young children, Anya and Wesley, enjoy going for a check-up. 

“Dr. Cooper is funny and nice, and always makes sure kids don’t get scared,” says Anya. “She has TVs that you can watch cartoons on while you’re in the chair, and then when you’re done you get to pick a prize from the treasure chest!”

Adds her brother Wesley, “Dr. Cooper also has lots to entertain you and distract you from the fact that there are a lot of sharp tools they’re going to stick in your mouth.”

When it comes to her dental check-ups, Ashley Lindquist has a love-hate relationship.  “I hate having to go. Just the thought of having the dental hygienists poke at my teeth and gums makes my skin crawl,” she says. “But on the other hand, I love the confidence I possess once they’re done. I smile a lot bigger the rest of the day because my mouth feels so clean and fresh—like I should be in a Listerine commercial!”

That post-cleaning, fresh feeling is what keeps Paige Hatley going as well, despite her worries. “It’s not the drills and the noises, but the fear that the dentist will tell me I have a cavity,” she confesses. “Then it’s like, ‘Okay, what did I do wrong?’ ‘When can I take off time to make another appointment to have things fixed?’ It makes me anxious!”

To make it a more enjoyable experience, James Wortman says it all boils down to simply being prepared. “Going to the dentist is like taking a test. If you’ve done the work beforehand, and flossed and brushed properly, then you’ll go in feeling good and get a great report,” he says. “But if you haven’t done your homework, be prepared for some pain!”

To avoid a bad report, Dr. Hund recommends two things: floss and stop sipping that soda! “Flossing is a big one. Everyone knows they should do it, but no one does,” he says. “It’s just as important for good gum and bone health as it is for preventing cavities and gum disease.”

Dr. Cooper adds that it’s not just the soda, but sweet tea is also bad for your teeth. “It amazes me how many people don’t realize it’s bad for you,” she notes. The sugars eat away at your enamel, which protects your teeth from daily wear and tear. If that enamel erodes, your teeth will become more susceptible to cavities and decay. 

There is no magic fix to overcoming your fear of the dentist, but going for regular check-ups is something you should do, and should want to do for your health. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, never be ashamed to ask for a tour of the facility first or a consult and conversation. Or in Jessica Baldwin’s case, perhaps mild sedation! Dentists are on your side, and they want you to be as comfy as possible in their chair so that you can be as comfortable as possible in your smile.

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