- Published on Tuesday, 01 July 2014 23:23
- Written by Nur Sakinah Mohd Farit
DO you know that just drawing a simple smile on the face can actually make a person’s day better?
But no thanks to many toothpaste commercials, beautiful smile requires you to have the perfect teeth structure and to have all this means you need to pay a visit to the dentist.
And for this reason alone, some of us may forget the dream of having a perfect smile because they are dental-phobic or well-known to have a dental phobia.
WHAT IS DENTAL PHOBIA?
Let’s get our understanding few elements correctly before discussing more in-depth on this issue. Phobia is actually a type of anxiety disorder. This is not an unusual situation, many suffer from various types of phobia, including agoraphobia (fear of dangerous environment) or achrophobia (fear of heights) and even arachnophobia (fear of spiders and they even made a film based on this fear)
Coming back to the topic on choppers (slang word for teeth, if you are not aware of it) dental phobia means the sufferer will try their best to avoid or in any worse scenarios, act irrationally on anything that requires probing, scraping, filling, or worse, pulling their teeth out happening in front of their eyes.
Putting this in a very simple context, dental phobia is actually a person’s fear to receive dental care from a dentist. They would rather endure the pain rather than seeing the dental specialist to help reduce or even better, cure the pain.
Dental phobia which can also be classified as dental anxiety is actually famous around the globe, not just here among us Malaysians. It is roughly estimated that more than 75% of adults in the United States experience dental phobia, ranging from mild to severe.
Thus, this is not a recent problem but has been in existence for quite some time.
ARE YOU A DENTAL PHOBIC?
Since little, my parents had taught me to care and be particular of my oral hygiene. I remembered having to wake up from deep sleep at 12 in the morning just because I haven’t brushed my teeth or gargled with the mouth washer.
Not only that, as early as 5 years old I was brought to the dentist to undergo a regular dental check-up. I guess this has actually helped to reduce the group size of the dental-phobics as I’m never afraid to go for a dental check-up.
Recently, I had three teeth extracted in order to wear braces. The scary part for dental-phobics would be when I was given six injections in two different occasions. The needle itself would have freaked anyone out! I guess this would be the most unexciting part for a dental-phobic.
I think there is not much difference for tooth extracting procedure at present and in the past. The dentist uses a plier to extract the tooth out, only nowadays they sedate you before pulling the tooth. The pain back then would've recruited more dental-phobics. However, we can't say anything more as today, dental-phobics still exist in our society.
A dental-phobic only wishing to be known as Mr. Abdullah Zawawi, has been one since young right up to the current age of 40. He had a traumatizing experience as a child when he had his tooth extracted without being numbed. Since then his visits to the dentist involves his parents to drag him, forcefully seated him on the treatment chair until at one time, he struggled to free himself that he accidentally kicked the nurse.
It took him 30 years to find the courage to finally meet the dentist as he has many dental problems such as decayed teeth, bleeding gums, bad breath and also badly stained, black tooth which needs thorough check-up by a certified dentist.
During his first visit, ‘I hate dentist’ is uttered towards the dentist but after sometime, he felt comfortable and began telling the doctor of his dark history. The doctor gained his trust to fix his teeth although at times, he’s still jumpy and nervous.
But now, he is a regular visitor to the clinic every 6 months without fail!
It’s important for us to understand these dental-phobics as they are among us, and if may affect us one day if we are dentally challenged, who knows?
According to Associate Professor Dr Zahari Ishak from the Department of Educational Psychology and Counselling, University of Malaya, dental phobia occurs mainly because of the terrifying instruments being used during the dental check-up.
“I would say the main cause for dental phobia is actually because of the tools used during the check-up. They are mainly sharp and made out of metal.
“As human, we have a natural reaction towards sharp things being poked into our mouth. We usually would imagine the sharp tool would hurt us eventually,” he explains diligently.
Other than that, mass media also plays a major role in contributing to this problem. These portrayals of dentist being very harsh towards their patients definitely don’t help the sufferers, as their fear level may increase. Let us not forget some B-grade movies featuring fiery dentist (or high-profile Hollywood flick like The Marathon Man that helped to create mass dentist phobia)
WHY DENTAL PHOBIA?
Dental phobia can be divided into two groups. The first one is those who have a direct involvement in it while the second is those with indirect experience.
From direct experience, the phobia actually started since they enter the door to the clinic. The experience they get from the clinic’s environment could determine the experience inside the dentist’s room.
Usually the first visit to the clinic contributes to the phobia as the sufferers visit when their dental problem has already become severe. For example, a patient with a toothache comes to the dentist whereby the problem is so severe that it requires the dentist to pull the tooth out.
Thus, from the pain experienced or the treatment received, the patient develop the phobia to revisit a dentist ever again.
As for indirect experience, it comes from truly horrifying tale related by those who have already been to a dentist and suffered from it.
As an example, those who went to the dentist for a scaling treatment would have their gums bleeding accidentally. Thus, they would go around exaggerating about this and eventually contributes to the fear bank of a dental-phobic, though they never think twice when their gum bleed due to aggressive brushing in the morning.
Not only that, media role in this issue is at a crucial phase. We see more and more dentist character is being added in films, be it humorous or horrific. As mentioned above, in The Dentist film, the good-looking Dr Alan Feinstone apparently hallucinates his patients as his cheating wife, which leads to him offering a bad treatment to his patients as a sign of revenge towards his wife.
He once forcefully pulls out his wife’s teeth and cuts out her tongue. Not only that, he also imagines one of his patient’s teeth are brown and rotten which leads to his dental pick slips out of his hand and accidentally stabs the patient in the gums.
Even if you put it in a humorous context, take the famous funny guy of our time, Mr Bean, for example, who, in one episode, goes to the dentist, and no thanks to our paranoid hero, the message conveyed to the viewers is still fear. Mr Bean is still afraid of the dentist although he is well-briefed.
Interestingly for some of us, encountering items that might remind you of the dental clinic can also be considered as an indirect experience. For example when you see a white coat or smell the antiseptic, they’ll remind you of the clinic and evoke your dental fear.
Therefore, it is not unusual that we see some people with pale look or children revolting in tears waiting anxiously for their turn in the dental clinic.
HOW A DENTIST DEAL WITH A DENTAL-PHOBIC
According to Dr Siti Hafizatun Abdul Shookor, the owner of Dutamas Dental Clinic in Kuala Lumpur, it’s actually very simple to deal with the dental-phobic. You just need to know the right way in order to gain their trust to treat them.
“All you need to do is make them feel comfortable and at ease. Break the boundary between patient-dentist relationship and become their friend. This is vital for you to understand their fear and where they are coming from.
“Not only that, a dentist should also establish a relationship based on trust with the patient. This is to convince the patient that the dentist is giving the best treatment for them,” the dentist said with a smile.
The University of Malaya graduate also suggests that a dentist should reassure the patients again and again that everything will be okay as the latter are very anxious and scared. The dentist can also share with the patient the procedures that the patients will undergo and what it means for the dental care to keep them aware and feel better at times.
“A good dentist will always share with his patient what to expect during a procedure. This is to avoid them from feeling jumpy during treatment,” the dentist explains.
People say honesty is the best policy. I guess it applies in this issue as patients would want their dentist to be transparent with them apart from expecting more pain coming during the treatment.
OVERCOMING DENTAL PHOBIA
Surely we do want to help those with this disturbing problem. We must remember again that phobia is curable and it is not a disease, just a certain psychological predicament that can be rectified.
There are several steps suggested by Associated Professor Dr Zahari Ishak from University of Malaya of the Educational Psychology and Counselling department, in order to cure this disturbing phobia. One of them is for you to ensure that you know the dentist well before giving them the access to your mouth. It’s also vital for parents to study the dentist’s background and get comments from previous patients on his/her service.
Just to keep yourself comfortable and calm, it’s suggested that you should bring a company along with you during your visit to the clinic. This is mainly to distract you from thinking or imagining what will soon happen in the dentist’s treatment room.
Other than that, you should also communicate with the dentist if anything goes wrong during treatment. There should be a mutual understanding during treatment and this is part of the communication skill that a dentist should acquire during their study. If you experience any slight pain during treatment, you should tell the dentist for him to stop the procedure. A good dentist is the one that communicates regularly with his patient. A simple ‘are you okay?’ can actually help the dental-phobics overcome their fears.
Another way to rid yourself of dental-phobia is to visit the dentist regularly. The first visit need not to be for a major treatment. Just a normal twice a year check-up will do to help you get over the fear towards a dentist. This is actually a get-to-know phase with the dentist, to know if he or she is reliable and you are comfortable with the procedure offered.
Some people are unwilling to pay the price for a beautiful smile because of this tiny problem they have. But you wouldn’t want to forgo the excitement of having great food with friends due to severe dental problem, right?
Take a baby step towards the dental clinic and deal with your phobia. Only you can make the change for yourself.