By Edeline Anne Goh
It isn’t surprising to have people bolt for the door at the mere mention of the word ‘dentist’.
Fear of going to the dentist, or dental phobia as it is called in severe cases, is the reason why millions of people neglect their oral health. For those gripped by this fear, the recommended biannual trip to the dentist never happens because their teeth ‘feel’ healthy! Does this sound like you?
According to Major Dr. Faiz Khaleed, Malaysia’s astronaut and practising dentist, the fear that stops people from going to the dentist can be controlled if there is open communication between the patient and the dentist regarding their anxieties.
From his years of practice, he says that there are several possibilities as to why you may have this fear. Firstly, it may be the fear of pain. Secondly, it may be due to a past traumatic experience at the dentist and thirdly, simply as a result of hearsay meaning a person is influenced by someone else’s negative experience. “This makes the pain real to them,” says Dr. Faiz. He stresses that most of the time, pain and discomfort during dental treatments are amplified due to this fear. Therefore, the key to a more relaxed and stress-free visit to the dentist is to overcome the fear itself.
Tackling the Fear
One of the most important values as a medical practitioner is to be accommodating to a patient’s needs. For Dr. Faiz, his advice is that the patient needs to understand what he or she is about to go through.
Be it a simple tooth extraction or a root canal, before any dental procedure the dentist should explain the process to the patient so that he or she clearly knows what to expect.
Patients must also do their part and talk to their dentist about their concerns before the start of their procedure. “Patients should discuss with the dentist so that he can recommend the best treatment while taking into account important factors such as their health and comfort,” explains Dr. Faiz.
By understanding the patient, the dentist will be able to address their needs better and help ease their uncertainties by suggesting general anaesthesia, talking to the patient or allowing short breaks during the procedure.
Dr. Faiz says that one of the most important things the patient needs to understand when anaesthesia is used is that the numbness they feel only helps block the pain. “Pressure, cold or the taste of blood can still be felt and this may cause confusion to the patient as to what he or she is feeling,” he says. “For instance, when you feel the pressure of a dental tool pressing against your gum, you may interpret this feeling as pain.”
However, what if you really do feel pain? He says that different people have different reactions and if a patient is genuinely in pain, he or she will immediately jerk or their eyes will water. Also, most of the time, the fear tends to be amplified because you are uncertain as to how to manage your fear.
Says Dr. Faiz, “Not knowing what is happening can cause unfounded fear during a procedure. Once you understand the procedure better beforehand, your experience will definitely be better as well.” Reiterating his point, he says that it is good for both patient and dentist to have mutual understanding and trust.
If you have not tried speaking to your dentist beforehand, you should definitely give it a go during your next dental appointment.
Will The Kids Have Fear Too?
It is possible for a child to be fearful of the dentist especially if the he has had a bad experience if his parents are afraid too! However, there are steps that can be taken to avoid this. Dr. Faiz’s advice is to never force your child into the dental chair.
During the first dental visit, let your child familiarise himself with the surroundings. Allow the dentist to interact with your child and do not be surprised if the first visit does not involve any treatment. Once your child has warmed up to the idea of visiting the dentist, you can consider a proper check-up and necessary treatment for the following visit.
Also, don’t forget to take your child for dental check ups every 6 months. This gives you a great opportunity to have your teeth looked at as well. “Even though you do not see or feel a problem, it is important to let the dentist confirm that your teeth are healthy. Remember, dental problems are usually silent,” says Dr. Faiz.
So when should you start dental check-ups for your child? Dr.Faiz says that this should ideally be done when the first milk teeth appear.
Maintaining Oral Hygiene
Did you know that bacteria can enter your body through your gums? Besides visiting the dentist, having a complete daily dental regime is also important and by this, we do not mean just brushing your teeth twice a day.
An ideal dental regime which can be done in the comfort of your home consists of brushing, flossing and rinsing. “It is a wrong perception when people say brushing your teeth is good enough to keep your teeth healthy. In fact, it takes care of only fifty to sixty five percent of your overall oral hygiene,” warns Dr Faiz.
After each meal, it is recommended that you gargle with either mouth wash or warm water. Also, don’t forget to floss. Make this a family habit to encourage a healthy dental regime among your kids too. After all, understanding the importance of dental health is the key to battling your fear of the dentist.