Watching Steve Martin’s maniacal dentist sadistically wield his drill in ‘Little shop of Horrors’ as a child put me of the chair for life. Plus I felt in my adolescent mind that anyone who gave out as ironic a present as a lollipop, greatest generator of their devilish trade, could and should not be trusted. Deviousness expounded from these heathens (is it not the devil’s business to inflict pain?). They tried to drag me in their doors with promises of stickers but what I got was a hook-like scraping device thrust into my unwilling mouth, while the nauseating sound of a high powered torture drill echoed through the sterile corridors. When I reached an age of personal responsibility, I ripped up the appointment card and never looked back.
Fast-forward several years and more regrets than Frank Sinatra, now I must woefully convince my own children to enter the terror doors. Chants of ‘but you never went!’ follow my every step. Pleadingly I cry ‘but look what happened to me!’
Purveyors of pain they are not. Straight talking realists they are. Go to any dentists and they will tell you the honest, painful truth about your misspent oral life. ‘You are a smoker, aren’t you? You drink a lot of red wine. I can see you have a sweet tooth.’ They are detectives, trained by the Spanish inquisition to tell you all about your historical misdemeanours. Be afraid, they know where you’ve been, what you’ve done and probably how you’ll die. Forget the implements of torture, these Dr’s are the soothsayers of the modern age, and they are forecasting dental doom.
So where does this irrational and debilitating fear of the dentist come from? Is it because we mistrust anyone who chooses to spend their day virtually nose deep in your mouth? Or is it that they are a mixture between surgeon, doctor and builder? Perhaps the fact they have drills and are working in an area laden with nerves? Maybe it is just that everyone has seen ‘Marathon Man’? Who knows, but dental phobia or ordontophobia is a very real disorder.
‘Whenever I would go to the dentist I would feel physically sick.’ Says Adrian. The misfortune of a cracked wisdom tooth had befallen him and he had to go through weeks of agonising root canal treatment and an eventual extraction. ‘I was in absolute agony and that was what put me off. Previously I had never had any problems with the dentist but after the tooth extraction I was tentative to go back even for a check up. I just couldn’t get the memory of the after pain out of my head.’ And there lies the rub.
When you consider all the procedures the human body goes through, for example childbirth (which for any male readers, is a little nippy to say the least), why is that dental pain causes the most significant element of fear?
‘Partly it is due to the fear of pain but also the fact that you are aware of everything. When you come in to the dentist you already have the predilection of fear. No matter how much we fill our surgeries with toys and give out stickers or gimmicks, people are still frightened. They have heard wild stories about dentist causing pain and usually this story is embellished. The pain people are scared of is the after pain as your body heals itself and reacts to the trauma of the procedure, just as it would when you go to the doctor. When the anaesthetic wears off, your body begins to register discomfort but this can be controlled with common pain relief. Nothing that we do to our bodies is pain free. Dentistry has just been the subject to a lot of terrifying mythology. Look back the history books and you’ll see that surgeons experienced the same thing before the days of general anaesthetics. What will ultimately cause you more pain is ignoring your teeth and not visiting us regularly!’
And so spoke the Sydney dentist. While penning this article, sorry, typing this article my son enlightened me to the fact that Great White Sharks have 18 rows of teeth. All the better to eat us with, I thought. But this little nugget of information brought me to a conclusion. In our lifetime we get 2 rows of teeth. We lose one between the ages of 1-14. Our second row has to last us till we go to the grave. So if we only get two chances, why would we actively choose to avoid the people that could help us achieve longevity?
Needless to say I looked my son straight in the eye, taking in his toothless grin and hoped that he would not inherit my unequivocal stupidity.
This phobia of doctor and medicine is a universal problem that can be seen right from childhood. Thankfully, the dental conference 2020 is going to take place in a few weeks time where seminars will be conducted regarding patients’ fear of doctors and if you are one of those patients then this one is for you.