Dentists: Innocent or Guilty?

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Innocent or Guilty?Anxiety and phobias of all dental patients has been extensively researched particularly in relation to the dental anesthesia and “the needle”. A lot of people actually feel at ease once “the needle” has started to take effect.Innocent or Guilty?It’s official, the verdict is here as returned by the people: dentists are guilty of deception, fraud, and inciting fear into the hearts of people. But before we all jump ship at the very mention of these professionals, let’s take a closer look at the apparent hype and paranoia surrounding these dedicated professionals. We seek to explore the reasons why dentists have been targeted as Public Enemy Number 1 and also offer an alternative and perhaps more realistic view of these dedicated professionals.

An ideal early morning appointment begins with the terrified patient arriving 5-10 minutes before his/her scheduled time. The sweet smile from the receptionist, the numerous Women’s Day magazines scattered on the coffee table before us, and the classical music playing overhead are all designed to alleviate the anxiety in anyone who has a phobia of dentists. For most, the last few minutes of being called up are spent in an agonizing, nail-biting wait as most try to gather themselves and summon the courage to walk into the dentist’s surgery. Will I be jabbed with that needle? Will I be cut up with that drill? Is it going to hurt? If the last few lines are your very feelings, worry not! You can be forgiven for having these very feelings, as the sad reality is that most patients feel this way. Furthermore, the high-pitched sound of a dental handpiece (drill) cutting away at a cavity is likely to further agitate those anxiously awaiting their fate in the waiting room!

Once inside the surgery, several patients have often admitted not being entirely forthcoming to the dentist of their habits, symptoms, signs, and other aspects of their medical and social history. More often than not with such patient, we find that not only is their compliance with treatment often poor, but their chances of complete recovery following treatment are essentially compromised! It begs the question as to why this should be the case? On closer inspection, we find that yet again, the people’s response is: dentists are guilty of fraud, deception, and overcharging patients.

The dental community is acutely aware of such perceptions amongst patients and has done its fair share in the past to promote the right message and to improve the image of dental professionals. Amongst patients, there will always remain a group of people who have unrealistic expectations and would like to achieve the impossible in terms of results: that Britney Spears smile, that Brangelina jaw-line, all to go with an outfit picked out from Gucci or ValleyGirl at the local mall. The reality is that dentists allow people to walk around flashing their pink gums and smiles at others, yet people continue to take their noble service for granted. It’s hardly surprising that these few discontented people have managed to propagate a myth that the majority dentists commit suicide! In doing so, this further discredits the profession and feeds ignorant minds blatant lies.

Anxiety and phobias of all dental patients has been extensively researched particularly in relation to the dental anesthesia and “the needle”. A lot of people actually feel at ease once “the needle” has started to take effect. Moreover, the irony is that the local anesthetic actually serves to alleviate the anxiety and pain they may feel during the procedure. In its absence, one can only wonder the how quickly the pain threshold of an average patient may be crossed. For the Average Joe, pain tolerance may be normal. However, what do we do when a happy-go-lucky 74-year-old Mrs. Smith turns up for an appointment? In such cases, “the needle” is crucial for the treatment and is guaranteed to work wonders. Pain suppression and anxiety have also been successfully targeted in the past with the use of “happy gas”. While neither of the latter measures actually offers any assistance to the actual treatment procedure of patients, what they certainly do is make life easy for anyone in the dental chair.

If you or anyone you know experiences terror, phobias, or anxiety of any kind when visiting the dentist, try and let your dentist know so (s)he can take the necessary steps to calm down and relax your nerves before they lunge at you with that shrieking dental “drill”. If you don’t notice any change after having spoken to your dentist, or feel your concerns have not been addressed, try communicating them clearly or perhaps one more time. If nothing works, there’s always the option of visiting the friendly dentist down the road from our current one!

As far as the money trail goes, dentists have never been “rich” from money laundering or extorting dough from patients through hefty bills. The sad reality is that dental treatment is widely acknowledged to be a costly venture. In most cases, patients are responsible for contributing to their own dental demise through eating sweets and sugar-laced candies drinking beverages (acidic) and erosive fruit juices. The answer to all those dental aches and pains is simple: PREVENTION! Prevention would mean patients turning up for appointments on time and as scheduled, respecting the advice provided and following it to the letter in trying to improve their oral health. Yes, it may mean having to pay the fees for that extra visit, but what it will ensure is us not having to pay those future hefty bills racked up from a visit to the emergency department and having a temporary filling put in or – worse! – having an extraction done!

Dentists and dental professionals are committed, dedicated, and noble servants in a discipline where a lot matters. The consistent stress of having to deal with infinite problems is often compounded when patients fail to communicate across their concerns in a timely, forthcoming, and honest fashion. It really doesn’t make life easier for the patient either! Obviously, this is not to say or ignore the other patients who do their best to make the treatment easier for themselves and the dentist. But what is required is for both individuals to cooperate and make the treatment procedure a two-way street of communication, rather than a session with a dictator.

The medical profession is a vastly different field today than it was the past. With patients more aware of issues and greater expectations and demands imposed upon health professionals to work miracles, operating with responsibility has become ever more important today. In turn, the medical community expects patients to comply, communicate, and cooperate better if an ideal treatment outcome (which, by the way, is every treatment’s goal) is to be achieved!

Rehan Abbas is studying dentistry at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

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