“I’m terrified of the dentist!”
Being afraid of “the dentist” as a person is often the result of past cold, uncaring, or even downright mean or abusive behaviour on the part of dentists you may have encountered. You may fear things like hurtful remarks about the state of your teeth and your oral hygiene, the dentist inflicting pain and not caring/not stopping, or being treated as a set of teeth rather than as a person.
If you’ve had bad experiences with dentists in the past, it is very easy to make the assumption that dentists, in general, are bad people. There’s a theory called “construct theory”, which states that we have a tendency to ascribe certain attributes to a group of people who have something in common (in this case, dentists), based on our experiences of this group. However, these constructs (e. g. “evil” as opposed to “kind”, “bad” as opposed to “good” and so on) tend to be based on a very small number of observations.
Even if you’ve had the misfortune of running into 10 dentists, none of whom was particularly kind and caring, and two or three of whom were downright sadistic, this does not mean that ALL dentists conform to this apparent pattern. It simply means that you were incredibly unlucky in the past.
In any industry or occupation, there are those who are great and those who are not so great (or bad) and unfortunately dentistry is no different. The best dentists have a combination of great clinical and great communication skills and in an ideal world, every person who qualifies from university as a dentist would be someone who is great at dentistry and great with their patients. However, in the real world there are always going to be some who are better than others. Think back to when you were at school; there were the brainy people at the top of the class who seemed to do well in every subject and who were the life and soul of the party with plenty of friends… and then there were the people at the bottom of the class who struggled to keep up and weren’t really interested in being at school. Then of course, there were all the people in between.
As in any other walk of life, some people who happen to be dentists are delightful individuals, some are arrogant or condescending, some are laid-back, some are authoritarian, some are shy, and some are the life and soul of the party. You’ll want to find someone who is kind, considerate, easy to talk to, and who makes you feel at ease in their company.
Ask a Dentist!
“I am scared that the dentist will treat me as just another set of teeth.”
- “For most good dentists, the true joy of their work comes from the people that they get to meet and talk to everyday. As in all professions, there are extroverts and introverts, chatterboxes and silent types. What you need to do is find a dentist who is right for you and your communication style. If you find that your dentist’s communication style is not right for you, then maybe it is time for a change.
This is one of the reasons we talk about making contact with a few practices before you even book an appointment… If a dentist is willing to take the time to reply to an e-mail or return a phone call before you are a patient, this is a good sign that they are motivated to help people.” (Fraser Hendrie, BDS)
- “I love what I do, its fun, fulfilling, dynamic etc.. I constantly searched for a health care profession where I could spend quality time with my patients, have an active role in their health and treatment and one where I made a difference. Dentistry did that for me… Many of you have seen a horrible dentist or had this horrible experience that started all the fear. Yes I have to admit dentistry like every other job and profession has good people that care and love what they do and want to help and others that couldn’t care less. This is the same with doctors, dentists, painters, designers, builders etc.
But do not let this small hurdle stop you from getting the treatment and help you need. If you were in a community with only one dentist and you had no choice that is one thing but 99% of us are not. Dentistry is a very competitive field.. so go out and find the dentist you like, one that loves what they do and not just in it for the money and one that you trust and respect.” (Candadian dentist, wishes to remain anonymous)
In the What Can Help section, you will find tips for finding a caring dentist.
Interviews with dentists who have an interest in helping nervous patients
Cartoon © Dan Rosandich