In other cases, however, a person can become "afraid of the dentist" or of certain dental procedures without ever actually having had a bad experience at the dentist's office. These are people who have heard from others that all dentistry is painful -- and they believe it!
It should come as no surprise that fear is one of the most common obstacles for some people to overcome when going to the dentist. In some cases, a person may have had a bad experience in the past, and then avoids their much-needed dental care because of it. In other cases, however, a person can become "afraid of the dentist" or of certain dental procedures without ever actually having had a bad experience at the dentist's office. These are people who have heard from others that all dentistry is painful -- and they believe it! This type of learned fear is called "vicarious learning" and it is both common and detrimental.
Unfortunately, there is apparently good reason for people to accept these negative dental stereotypes, because they may be reinforced by family, friends and in the media. For instance, think for a moment about how you feel when you see a plane crash on the TV news. The vivid pictures and tragic personal stories stir our emotions. But have you ever stopped to think that you rarely hear about the more than 20,000 safe take offs and landings every day, or the incredible safety record of the airline industry? Likewise, few people share their successful dental experiences. Instead, research has shown that people are far more likely to share and embellish a negative dental experience.
I know from years of treating patients the power of vicarious learning. There are times when I have to suggest that a patient with a dental infection get a root canal (the replacement of an infected tooth's pulp with an inert material) to save their tooth. Right away, the fearful patient will say something like, "No way, put me to sleep and I'll have it pulled. I won't go through a root canal." When this happens, I ask them if they've ever had a root canal before, and if it was a bad experience. In most cases, the answer is no. I then ask them why they think it will be painful. They usually respond that they heard somewhere or from someone that a root canal is painful.
In addition, I sometimes hear fearful parents in my waiting room unknowingly establish negative stereotypes regarding dental treatments with their children. They might say things like, "Tell the dentist if he is hurting you," or "If you don't stop misbehaving, it will be your turn to go to the dentist next time," and other things that are likely to instill a fear of dentistry.
Dentists and dental treatment are sometimes portrayed in a negative light in the media and in commercials we see on TV. We have all heard stories in the news about AIDS, mercury fillings, dirty dental drills and water. Unfortunately, these stories are often one-sided and can misrepresent the facts. Likewise, commercials sometimes use the fear of dental treatment -- especially root canals -- as the punishment in their contrived scenarios.
Burt Decker, author of "You've Got to be Believed to be Heard," wrote "People make decisions based on emotion, and then try to justify them with facts." That, it seems, is the reason people who fear the dentist will tend to hone in on these negative dental stories and why these stories have such a powerful and damaging impact. These examples help to illustrate that fear is usually a learned phenomenon, and because it is learned, it can be unlearned as well.
A good place to start in overcoming a fear of the dentist and dentistry is with a dentist who listens to your fears. With time, and a dentist you can trust, your fears will disappear.
Want a great dentist who can help you with all of your dental needs? Call us at 1-866-970-0441 today.