Dear Doc: I have several colleagues in my unit who don't like – or even fear – visiting the dentist. Some go as far as to live with a toothache or other oral problem for months just to avoid seeing their dentists.
I wonder if you could share a few tips for how my colleagues and others can overcome this fear? Could you also provide a few tips related to oral health you wished everyone knew or kept in mind?
-Sgt. Dan D. Dentophobe
Dear Sgt. Dentophobe: Many service members face the same fear. I found just the person to talk to about this. I contacted Army Maj. (Dr.) Loc Dang, a pediatric dentist at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. Here's what he said:
How many of you like going to the dentist?
How many would rather wait until the pain is unbearable before seeking treatment?
Dentophobia (a fear of dentists), it turns out, is one of the most common phobias in the world! I recently walked around my clinic (a dental clinic!) and polled my coworkers on why they avoid seeking dental care. You might recognize their answers:
- I hate needles.
- They will find a cavity because I have bad teeth.
- The dentist doesn't care about me and just wants more money.
- They will judge me when they see my teeth.
As a dentist, the most important thing I can do for you is provide you the education to maintain excellent oral hygiene and prevent dental diseases. If you are successful with prevention, your dentist won't need to use needles because your teeth will be happy and healthy. With the right knowledge, then, your future dental visits will be a breeze! Let's review some key information:
- Brushing and flossing are actually important. In college, I lost my dental insurance for four years. When I returned to the dentist, I was shocked when they told me I had ZERO CAVITIES. How did I do it? I learned how to brush and floss correctly: To brush, hold your toothbrush with a loose grip and brush in circles for two minutes. Note, it's the tip of the bristles that do the action, so if your brush is frayed, it's time for a new one. With flossing, think of your teeth as windows. Would you lick the outside of your windows? I wouldn't either. You've got to squeegee (floss) them clean – and often!
- Please stop sharing drinks and utensils, with your friends and with your family. You can easily pass your germs to other people. If they get cavities, chances are they came from you.
- Your diet matters. Everything you ingest (except water) has sugar in it. This sugar will increase the acidity level in your mouth. Bacteria needs an acidic environment to "turn on" and will use the sugar you feed it to grow. Keep in mind, bacteria thrive on easily processed sugars.
- Tobacco is bad for you. I shouldn't need to spell this one out. Please find a healthier way to manage your stress and anxiety.
- Go to your dental check-ups. Early detection is key. Your mouth says a lot about your general health. If we catch something amiss at a routine appointment, we can guide you to the proper people to get you the help you need. If you wait until you are in pain to pay us a visit, you'll probably find your dental journey long and costly. Don't do that to yourself.
My wish as a pediatric dentist is that your children won't grow up with the same dental fear you have.
Please teach them the importance of oral hygiene.
Brush your teeth together so they can see how important it is to you.
Most importantly, take your children to the dentist regularly so they can build positive memories at the dentist's office.
And remember, dentists are people too, and we survive on your healthy, happy smiles.
Sgt. Dentophobe: it sounds like your best way to get over your fear of the dentist is to make sure you keep your teeth clean and healthy. The scary things you're worried about rarely happen to people who get a clean bill of oral health. So keep brushing, keep flossing – and take care out there!