Dear Doc: I have several colleagues in my unit who dislike – or even fear – going to the dentist. Some go so far as to live with a toothache or other oral problem for months just to avoid seeing their dentist.
I wonder if you could share some tips on how my colleagues and others can overcome this fear? Could you also provide some tips related to oral health that you would like everyone to know or keep in mind?
-Sgt. Dan D. Toothphobe
Dear Sergeant. Dentophobe: Many servicemen face the same fear. I found someone to talk to about it. I contacted Army Maj. (Dr.) Loc Dang, a pediatric dentist at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. Here is what he said:
How many of you love going to the dentist?
How many prefer to wait until the pain is unbearable before seeking treatment?
It turns out that dentophobia (the fear of dentists) is one of the most common phobias in the world! I recently walked around my clinic (a dental clinic!) and I asked my colleagues why they avoided going to a dentist. You might recognize their answers:
- I hate needles.
- They’ll 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 to provide you with the education necessary to maintain excellent oral hygiene and prevent dental disease. 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, your future visits to the dentist 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 went back to the dentist, I was shocked when they told me I had ZERO CAVITY. How did I do? I learned how to brush and floss properly: To brush my teeth, hold your toothbrush with a loose handle and brush in circles for two minutes. Note that it’s the tips of the bristles that do the action, so if your brush is frayed, it’s time to change one. With dental floss, think of your teeth as windows. Would you like to lick the outside of your windows? Me niether. You have to clean them with a squeegee (dental floss) – and often!
- Please stop sharing drinks and utensils with friends and family. You can easily spread your germs to other people. If they have cavities, chances are they’re from you.
- Your diet matters. Everything you ingest (except water) contains sugar. This sugar will increase the level of acidity in your mouth. Bacteria need an acidic environment to “activate” and will use the sugar you give them to grow. Keep in mind that bacteria thrive on easily processed sugars.
- Tobacco is bad for you. I shouldn’t need to spell it. Please find a healthier way to deal with your stress and anxiety.
- Go to your dental exams. Early detection is essential. Your mouth says a lot about your overall health. If something goes wrong with a routine appointment, we can guide you to the right people to get you the help you need. If you wait until you have pain to visit us, you will probably find your dental journey long and expensive. Don’t do this to yourself.
My wish as a pediatric dentist is that your children do not grow up with the same dental fear as you.
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 kids to the dentist regularly so they can create positive memories at the dentist’s office.
And remember, dentists are people too, and we survive on your healthy, happy smiles.
sergeant. Dentophobic: It seems your best way to overcome your fear of the dentist is to make sure you keep your teeth clean and healthy. Scary things that worry you rarely happen to people who have good oral health. So keep brushing, keep flossing – and be careful!