“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” - Franklin Delano Roosevelt
And I know there are folks out there who really dread going to the dentist.
I get it. I understand.
When I start thinking about all the stuff that’s paralyzed me in the past, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit some of it stops me in my tracks to this very day.
Let’s forget about me flying wide awake in a big heavy tube at 32,000 feet or not going blank speaking in front of a modest size group of my own species…or sometimes just picking up the phone; I’ve managed to mostly get past those barriers. And in each case having a breakthrough opened up the quality of my life…BIG TIME.
But what about the prospect of this studly-in-his-own-mind health professional seeking care from a medical doctor? In my cabeza, the thought of visiting a physician is not so much like going to Disneyland. For me, a medical appointment is more like watching the USC Trojan defense and listening to Bolton while eating Brussels sprouts and being surrounded by spiders on top of the Empire State Building in total darkness (and now you know I’m still a blazing fear-destruction-machine…work in progress.)
Somehow, I managed avoiding MDs for years, right up until the time my chest started going “Thump!” near the end of spin classes. So I made an appointment.
I was so scared the nurse was sure I had high blood pressure AND diabetes and THAT was just after our meet and greet. I was so freakin’ upset I actually cried right in front of another male when the Doc reviewed my history (I told him about the lasting memory of seeing my Dad die suddenly at home from a heart attack.) The doctor couldn’t have been more reassuring; couldn’t have been a better listener.
I monitored my blood pressure for two weeks and at home, it was low; the blood panel returned with good news, and I actually did a treadmill echo stress test that made me look dang near like an Olympian (super-senior of course.) The diagnosis: palpitations from sprinting in spin class while holding my breath (wonder how many “Olympians” try that.)
So when it comes to fear, I get it; I understand.
Immortal Green Bay Packer Coach Vince Lombardi once said “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” And fatigue comes in physical and emotional packages.
According to the Journal of Dental Hygiene, “About 40% of modern western society is apprehensive about dental visits, 20% are highly fearful, and 5% avoid oral health care completely...” And I wouldn’t be surprised if the JDH numbers are conservative.
But we have answers.
Some of the answers come from modern technology; the really important ones come from human beings.
Dentistry can to do all kinds of stuff that just wasn’t around when Baby Boomers were having the kind of experiences that would generate the stories that would scare their kids. The tools are kinder and the cool distractions are greater.
Dentists can actually use gentle anesthetic that doesn’t sting after applying effective topical anesthetic with a Q-tip. Patients can sit in a “massage” dental chair and choose to put on some headphones or watch a movie using some virtual reality-type glasses. We can also work with a dental anesthesiologist who can help patients sleep comfortably and safely through treatment. I also really value the chance to work together with hypnotherapists who can empower nervous patients to effectively manage anxiety (sometimes showing up as a “gag” reaction.)
But what happens every time is a conversation, much like the conversation I had with my doctor. There’s so much power in sharing reassurance. From Day One, Minute Five, patients should know they are in control. I ALWAYS ask permission to relate to patients in the context of family, the mafia, or Steven Spielberg. In every instance, they’re mom or dad, sister or brother, daughter or son; not to mention the enforcer or director of their own experience.
Today, there’s a solid answer to dental fear itself and it starts with a simple conversation; your dentist should be doing most of the listening.
And understanding the far reaching connection between oral and general health, the opportunity is chewing and smiling like a kid and living a lot longer to brag about it.
If dental fear is paralyzing your health, please make the call and set up an appointment…for a conversation.