2017 alone saw about 127.6 million American adults visiting the dentist. That seems like a huge number — and certainly, Americans are lucky to have the kind of relatively easy access to dental care that we do! Yet as available as dental care is to Americans, many of us don’t take full advantage of it. There are plenty of reasons to see a dentist, so why do we keep putting it off? Unfortunately, as many reasons are there are to see a dentist, people tend to come up with or genuinely struggle with reasons to delay their check ups. Let’s look into why people tend to avoid going to the dentist — and why you should make an effort to go anyway.
Struggling With Financing Your Dentist’s Visit?
The fact is that when it comes to paying for dental work out of pocket, prices for different procedures can range. As with any type of medical work, you’ll probably be looking at a somewhat steep bill, at least at face value. It’s important to remember that when paying for dental work, you’re paying not only for the services of the dentist, but that of the dental assistants, the specific types of equipment needed, and certain medications at times. Still — even if you understand and value what you’re paying for, that doesn’t make it more affordable to everyone. Dental insurance isn’t offered by every employer, and the insurance that is offered by yours may not cover everything you need to have done. You may very well be aware of the reasons to see a dentist, but find it difficult to afford consistent care.
Dental practices are aware of the fact that dental insurance can’t always be counted on as typical health insurance is; but dental care is just as important as your regular physical check ups. Therefore, many dentists now offer different finance options to patients who can’t always pay for the entirety of their care upfront. While different types of financing may offer different features, typically this would mean that you would have a payment plan in place, breaking up the cost of your treatment over time and increasing its affordability. Now — financing your dental care may not be the best idea if you’re looking to get a purely aesthetic procedure completed, and in that case it may not be as readily available. But if you’re looking for immediate care — say, if you’re suffering from an abscessed tooth or sustained dental damage following a fall — then it could be the right choice for you. Of course, in many cases you can also finance regular but necessary procedures, like a cleaning. If you find yourself skipping your regular cleaning, you may want to consider financing it; it’s necessary to maintain regular care if you want to keep your teeth in their best possible condition.
The fact is that one the main reasons to see a dentist regularly is to remain as healthy as possible. But you should look at your teeth as an investment. The healthier they are, and the more regularly you maintain them, the less likely you will be to spend more on them in the long term. No one wants to go into long term debt over their teeth; the fewer appointments you skip, and the more your prioritize their care, the easier it will be to pay for a regular treatment here and there, versus an expensive correction down the road. Unfortunately, not everyone takes their dental care as seriously as they should, which isn’t necessarily their fault. However, this does lead to yet another reason why many put off visiting the dentist.
Is Dental Care Really That Serious?
Dental care was not always left to the professionals. Centuries ago, lots of people had good reasons to see a dentist — but left dental care to their parents as children, and their spouses or themselves as they grew older. Rather than having your toothache taken care of by a professional, you would probably have your tooth crudely extracted by the closest person you trusted. Most people don’t necessarily dismiss the need for dental care in this day and age. It’s difficult to ignore a particularly unbearable toothache. However, the fact is that many people don’t take dental care seriously because they don’t think it’s “worth it”. They believe that they can at the least skip an appointment or two, and ideally not go to the dentist at all. With this mindset, there are no good reasons to a see a dentist — that is, not until the situation is dire.
It’s quite possible that your parents used to rely upon old fashioned dental remedies. Perhaps you’ve heard of the recommendation of a shot of bourbon to help with a toothache. While it’s true that there may be a slight numbing effective when you take the bourbon, it’s clearly temporary, and in fact the chemical makeup of the bourbon may only contribute to the tooth decay that is likely causing your trouble in the first place! But that doesn’t mean that people won’t try it, especially if their toothache gets particularly bad outside of the local dentist’s office hours. The trouble is that if you get overly reliant on this short-term “cure”, you won’t solve the long term problem. The same can go for other old-fashioned remedies. People are even more likely to try these tricks when dealing with their children’s painful, presumably loose baby teeth. Why go to the dentist for an accurate diagnosis when you can tie a piece of string around your child’s painful tooth and yank it out using a doorknob? You may very well have had this done to you when you were younger — and you’re no worse for wear, right?
The fact is that whether or not you’re dealing with permanent teeth, tooth pain or sensitivity needs to be investigated by a professional. In fact, unexplained tooth discomfort is one of the main reasons to see a dentist. You need to take it seriously, and have it properly diagnosed as soon as possible, even if you’re dealing with a “baby tooth” that will be lost anyway. This is because tooth pain could be indicative of serious decay, which in turn can lead to even greater issues in the long term. If your tooth cracks, for example — which may not be immediately painful — you may very well end up with an abscessed tooth. Not only can this lead to intense pain; the infection caused by the abscess can lead to fever and other complications, which will in turn lead to health problems that aren’t limited to your teeth. Remember, however: serious pain and injury are not the only reasons to see a dentist. Just eating as much sugar as most of us do today can rot your teeth, and you’ll want to keep a close eye on them over the years. Yes, going to the dentist every six months may seem excessive to some. But once you’ve lost your temporary baby teeth, you’re stuck with the only set of teeth you’ll ever have. You should take them seriously and ensure that they’ll last.
Are You Afraid Of The Dentist?
So — you’ve heard a few valid reasons to see a dentist on a regular basis. They’re logical, they make sense to you. You understand that you can finance your dentist’s visits, and you see that it’s important to take dental work seriously, and have it taken care of by professionals. But you still don’t want to go. If you’re afraid to visit the dentist, then you aren’t alone. An almost pathological fear of the dentist is actually quite common, even if it isn’t quite justified — dentists are people just like the rest of us, after all! Though many people hide their fear of dentists as adults — feeling ashamed and simply putting off their visits — it’s a very real phobia. Referred to as dentophobia, it leaves thousands of people each year, paralyzed in fear and refusing to go to the dentist’s office.
What causes dentophobia? It’s hard to say. Some people never outgrow their childhood fear of the dentist, perhaps spurred on by a traumatic experience when they were young. Some people lump in a fear of the dentist with typical hypochondria, which causes them anxiety about being diagnosed with a serious illness on a typical visit. It can also be conflated with a standard fear of the doctor. There’s also the fact that the dentist’s office is somewhat foreign to many of us. We don’t exactly understand how everything works, and many of us feel awkward about asking. The lab equipment at the dental office can be particularly intimidating, and as a standard visit requires being in the vulnerable position of laying down, essentially, it’s easy for your anxiety to be triggered at the dentis’ office. With that being said, lots of people lack specific reasons for being afraid of or anxious around the dentist. They just are.
Dentists are more than aware of their “image problems”. Keep in mind that the vast majority of dentists are kind, caring people. In fact, they’ve specifically chosen their work because they care about people and want to help them! In keeping with that, a lot of dentists now take steps to make sure that their offices are as comfortable and welcoming as possible. This is why many of them play music in their offices and include whimsical artwork. You may have already noticed this type of work if you’ve been to the dentist’s office before; this is meant to distract patients, and is often chosen specifically for its calming effects. Focus on the music, on the visual distractions of the art, to keep yourself from thinking about your fear or anxiety triggers. You may also want to look into distraction techniques that are specific to you. Think about listening to your own music or an audio book, or even a podcast, if you can — some dentists allow patients to connect their iPhones to the nearby speakers while they’re having their cleanings done, for example. If you find yourself completely incapable of being distracted, you may want to talk to a therapist about calming techniques.
Dentists also take extra steps to make sure that their patients feel confident about the treatment they’re getting. Your dentist will be upfront about all drug information, so that you don’t have to worry about the medication you’re using. Think about it this way; your anxieties about your dental health are some of the chief reasons to see a dentist. By talking to a dentist, you’ll be able to calm your fears and be confident that you’re making the right decisions regarding your health, without a doubt.
Think of a reason to avoid the dentist — there are probably five reasons to see a dentist in turn. Undoubtedly, one of the chief reasons to see a dentist is that you need to prioritize your health, and your teeth are integral to your overall health. If your teeth fail, you’ll be unable to eat properly; and in fact, if your “bite” is incorrect, you could even run the risk of food ending up in your windpipe. Furthermore, infected teeth, as discussed above, can lead to an infection in your bloodstream at large. Yet you shouldn’t rely upon fear and anxiety about potential problems as reasons to see a dentist, any more than you should cite them as reasons to avoid a dentist. Building regular dental care into your routine, and prioritizing your dental health just as you prioritize the care and keeping of the rest of your body, will leave you much more relaxed and happy in the future. Whatever is keeping you from seeing the dentist now, there are ways to make dental care work you, your needs, and your budget. It’s just a matter of taking the first step!
Author: Caroline Sibley
Caroline is a freelance content creator and creative writer. VCUArts alum with a focus on the arts, travel, and culture.