Why are people afraid of the Dentist?

Most adults and children who are afraid of the dentist have experienced trauma during a previous visit or have been informed of such stories by others.  I admit dental visits can be intimidating and sometimes uncomfortable, but our reputation as dentists has been scarred by childhood experiences of older patients, horror movies, and the fear of what could happen.  This seems a little unfair to today’s dental professional, and my goal is to overcome this stigma with my patients.

Dentistry has seen many advances over the last 50 years.  Modern technology has allowed us to perform our job much more efficiently and with less pain.  Many people get up from my chair with the response, “That’s it?  You’re done?  Well, that was easy.”  That’s not the case every time, but certainly the norm rather than the exception.  Were these older dentists really the evil madmen our patients describe them as?  Probably not.  In their denfense, they were most likely doing the best job they could with the equipment and expertise of their age.  Compassion certainly plays a role in the overall patient experience, but technology has provided wonderful benefits for both the dentist and the patient.

I keep waiting for a movie or television series to come out portraying a dentist in a favorable light.  I don’t see it happening.  Our profession is not as exciting as an ER doctor, as intriguing as a trial lawyer, or as shocking as a Crime Scene Investigator.  We are only fit for the horror fims depicting as the blood, gore, and screaming you normally experience in the dental chair.  Right?  No!  But could this be where our presuppositions come from?  Thank you Hollywood.

Trust should be something we as professionals instill in all our patients.  This allows people to feel at ease around us without needing a Valium to walk through the front door.  In today’s society, trustworthiness is rare, but it is absolutely essential to calm the fears of others as well as to run a successful business.  Generations ago patients trusted doctors without question, now many patient seemingly know better than doctors because of their authoritative internet knowledge.  Certainly patients have every right to be informed, but we as doctors must keep the patient’s best interest in mind when making recommendations, not the interest of our back pocket.

People will always be afraid of an environment where they feel vulnerable and not in control of the amount of pain they experience, but one of our many jobs as dental professionals is to quell these fears by caring for the person not just their teeth.  Every tooth we restore or extract is attached at some point to an individual who is formulating an opinion of us.  That opinion may be favorable, accurately reflecting and giving glory to Christ, the Great Physician, or it may portray us as the guy in the horror film.  I pray my reputation will be characterized by a continual care for my patients health and well being.  Who knows, maybe one day the stigma will change.