The Internet has caused a virtual explosion of information available to anyone with a computer and Internet access. The ready availability of information is helpful to fearful dental patients because they can find out about various dental procedures before their appointment. There is also another way that the Internet can help alleviate fear and anxiety associated with dental treatments. In many instances, prospective patients can contact a dentist prior to going to the office for an appointment. The anonymity of the Internet allows people to voice their fears or concerns from the comfort and security of their own homes. This anonymity, coupled with the increasing trend of dentists with Web sites and e-mail addresses, greatly facilitate the ability of apprehensive patients to "interview" dentists before meeting them face-to-face.
Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to correspond with many fearful patients through the Internet. Their messages have given me considerable insight into the anxiety many of these people have when visiting the dentist. Consider this e-mail I just recently received:
Hello Dr. I am a transplanted Philly person now living in Texas, and still have family in the Philly area and visit from time-to-time. It would really be heaven if you practiced down here, for I am the biggest coward in the world about going to the dentist. It is at the point where, whenever I even think about going for a teeth cleaning, I feel that I am going to pass out. You can forget about the needle, too. Needless to say, I have a few bad teeth and a little gum pain every now and then.
This message shows just how candid people tend to be when communicating over the Internet. Another advantage of corresponding by e-mail is that it can help apprehensive patients get at least some sense of the dentist's personality or style, as well as address specific concerns. For instance, a patient can learn if the dentist uses nitrous oxide, dental sedation, air abrasion or other methods to ease anxiety or reduce pain.
The Internet gives prospective patients the ability to communicate with a dentist before ever stepping foot in the office. Anxious patients should be encouraged to discuss their concerns to the dentist during the initial consultation, or before, via e-mail, if possible. The Internet can be a helpful tool for apprehensive patients so they can better prepare for what to expect when they visit the dentist.
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