Oral health, it’s arguably one of our favourite wellness topics….or not. Let’s be honest, if given a choice between an infrared sauna, going for a workout or visiting the dentist, we’d likely avoid the latter, but reality is, it’s still a vital element to good health and wellbeing. In fact, if we’re talking ‘trends,’ oral health could be said to be making its way back, with a recent study linking our oral health quite heavily to our gut health and microbiota…which makes good sense, considering the digestive process. So, the question begs—if we’re into gut health and wellness in general, why do we not prioritise our oral health in the same way we do regular cholesterol, pap smears and eye tests? One word – Dentophobia.
Also known as a ‘fear of dentists,’ (hands up who just shuddered?), the feels are very real, with research finding at least 16.1 per cent of Australians experience serious ‘dentophobia,’ rating it a ‘high fear.’ And of those surveyed, women admit to dreading the dentist more so than men. And I can sure vouch for that! As a dentophob myself, who had a particular traumatic experience with a dentist that involved a rather large injection and a door blocking incident that left me locked in a room as a five year old with no way out (and my mum on the other side of the door, not allowed in)— I’m the first to admit going to the dentist has left me kinda traumatised. Yet, in light ofDental Health Week, running now from 5-11 August, it seems like as good time as any to address the dreaded dentophobia and learn how to face the fear and do it anyway. To help, Amodrn spoke with Dr Rick Iskandar, a Principal Dentist at Tailored Teeth (and Philips Sonicare ambassador), to find out how to overcome ‘dentophobia’ and learn to love your teeth (and dentist for that matter!).
What are the most common reasons people fear going to the dentist and what advice would you give to them?
“I see dental phobic and anxious patients on a daily basis in my practice, not to mention all those too afraid to even make it out to the clinic – the fear is that common and real,” says Dr Iskandar. “In fact, according to the ABS National Health Survey, more than one quarter of the population have not been to the dentist in the past two years. In my experience the most common reasons are…”
A fear of being judged “For those avoiding the dentist because of their phobia, it becomes a catch-22; the longer that seeking professional advice is avoided, the more likely significant dental disease is to develop and the more pain and anxiety is associated with your dental health and fear you have over someone knowing or seeing your teeth after such a long time.”
Bad past experiences “For patients who have had bad experiences in the past and no longer feel comfortable with dentists tends to be common, but it’s all a matter of finding a new one who will work for you,” says Dr Iskandar. “I believe it’s so important to have a positive relationship with your dental team because regular contact in an open and trusting relationship allows for easy early detection of problems and facilitates a preventative approach to dental care.”
Pain “While this is a common pre-conception, the days of uncomfortable, traumatic visits to the dentist are now obsolete thanks to significant advancements in the effectiveness of dental products and techniques such as local anaesthetics and digital dentistry,” says Dr Iskandar.“The public’s demand for a higher level of service from one of the most frequently visited health services means it’s not even uncommon to find outrageously comfy dental chairs and Netflix on the ceiling in many practices nowadays.”
When shopping around for a good dentist, what are the key criteria or etiquette you would recommend to look out for that will help those feeling scared to feel safe?
Informed consent: “Your dentist should always advise you of the advantages, disadvantages, risks and costs of any procedure undertaken,” says Dr Iskandar. “This ensures there are no misunderstandings in the doctor-patient relationship and the relationship can be maintained honestly and transparently on both sides.”
Firm but fair: “Your dentist’s job is to educate and motivate you to maintain your dental health. Sometimes, this involves dishing out some harsh truths for your betterment. However, if you feel uncomfortable with the way your dentist is talking to you, you can let them know or move dentists,” says Dr Iskandar. “The benefits of having a positive association with your dental team is important but it’s still important to not sugar-coat bad news just to avoid hurting a patient’s feelings, as that can decrease the importance and priority of completing treatment,” says Dr Iskandar. “When it comes to decay and gum disease, sooner is almost always better for getting it resolved.”
Find a dentist who is active on social media:
“If you’re highly anxious, start by putting a face to your fears! So many dentists are now creating content around oral health and dentistry online – even posting live stories with patients about treatments being performed,” says Dr Iskandar.“So maybe, get to know a dentist near you by following their social feeds and you’ll be able to get a good idea if you’re comfortable with them before you even walk into their surgery.”
“I’m always thrilled when a new patient tells me they’ve been watching my videos and it’s what made them come in to see me,” says Dr Iskandar.
Fears aside, can you win us over with a few unexpected reasons why we should make friends with our dentist?
Dentists can detect serious diseases “Sometimes we are the first people to detect systemic diseases such as diabetes, sleep apnoea and oral cancer or identify lifestyle diseases such as poor stress management or sleep hygiene, which contribute to chronic anxiety,” says Dr Iskandar. “If they are a good dental team we can detect and address it early.”
Dentists can give holistic health advice “The advice and instruction received in dental check-ups can have a huge impact on your overall health,” explains Dr Iskandar.“From what foods and beverages to eat, to perfecting your brushing technique and investing in the best dental technology, there is a lot we can do to help maintain our oral health.”
Dentists can boost your social life… “Good oral health can help enhance social interaction and promote positive self-image and self-esteem,” says Dr Iskandar.“A healthy mouth not only facilitates nutrition in the physical body but also enhances social interaction, promotes positive self-image and helps you regain confidence in your smile.”
Lastly, any quick tips for good oral hygiene?
“Invest in a Philips Sonicare DiamondClean Smart – it’ removes 10 times more plaque than a manual toothbrush, and combines the best cleaning technology with an array of sensors and an even has an app for live feedback to easily optimise your brushing technique.”