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Overcoming fear of the dentist has broader health benefits

Two in five Australians (39 per cent) did not visit a dentist at all last year, and 61 per cent delay dental treatments due to their expense. But taking steps to overcome one's reluctance to sit in the dentist's chair "can be surprisingly empowering and life-changing", according to one doctor. 

Dr Kristina Cain said many people's fear stems from a traumatic childhood experience, but patients should be reassured that dentistry has come a very long way in recent years. 

"It sounds brutal, but once upon a time, dentists were taught to give headlocks to hold their patients down. Fortunately, dentistry has evolved in leaps and bounds since then and we now take a very holistic and much more gentle approach with our patients," she said.

"Avoiding the dentist can impact your health, your emotional and mental wellbeing, not to mention your hip pocket if you have to pay for expensive procedures like root canals that could have been avoided with regular check-ups."

"Studies have shown there is a link with gum disease and cardiovascular health, diabetes and even Alzheimer's."

An alarming 25 per cent of Australian adults are living with untreated tooth decay, she continued, and noted that more than 63,000 Australians are hospitalised each year for preventable dental conditions. 

"A fear of the dentist can be real burden that affects so much more than just your mouth," Dr Cain mused.

"It's crucial to understand what caused it – was it a traumatic experience or is the fear stemming from a lack of control. Regard your dentist as a healer and know that they are there to help and only want what is best for you and your health." 

The comments are especially pertinent in light of research from financial comparison service comparethemarket.com.au, which commissioned a survey of an independent, nationally representative panel of 1,087 Australians to gauge whether we are delaying necessary dental check-ups and procedures, and why.

"Worryingly, a fifth (21 per cent) of respondents admitted they hadn't been to the dentist for at least two years, and 15 per cent said that it had been more than three years since they had their teeth checked," the service wrote.

"On average, a routine dental exam, clean and fluoride treatment costs $66, with prices ranging from $51-92 across Australia. Orthodontic treatment tends to be pricier, ranging from anywhere between $5,000-9,000." 

In addition to the two-thirds (61 per cent) of Australians who would delay dental treatment due to costs, 16 per cent would delay any procedure they needed that cost more than $150, the service continued. 

"When asked which dental treatments people would put off for either themselves or their child due to the expense, one in three (32 per cent) said they would avoid routine dental check-ups. On top of this, 30 per cent would put off getting caps and crowns, 29 per cent would delay getting veneers and 28 per cent would avoid necessary orthodontic treatment." 

"If respondents were faced with significant dental bills, half (50 per cent) said they would draw on their savings, 39 per cent would use a credit card and 20 per cent would see if they could go on a payment plan. Interestingly, an equal 6 per cent would either borrow money from friends or family, increase their credit card limit, or draw on their superannuation to make payments," it noted.

With these statistics in mind, as well as the overarching health benefits of attending such appointments, Dr Cain outlined five strategies individuals can implement to overcome their fear, or reluctance, of seeing the dentist: 

Talk to your dentist

"Explain why you are afraid and talk about any unpleasant experiences," she suggested.

Discuss what work needs to be done

Get a treatment plan going forward, she said, so there is "no nasty surprises".

Find tools and strategies to deal with your fear

"Whether that is through topical anaesthetics, analgesics, gas, music, aromatherapy or someone simply holding your hand," she said. 

Get a full disclosure of costs

This is crucial, she advised, as it will help one plan how to pay for it and will "take the financial worry away".

And, finally...

Visualise your healthy smile after the work is done!

"I have seen some remarkable transformations in people who have learnt to cope with their dental phobia," Dr Cain reflected. 

"It is like a burden has been lifted from their shoulders and they have the confidence then to step outside their comfort zone in other areas of their life. One patient confided in me that she was so happy she now felt like she could smile on the outside the way she smiles on the inside."

"From a dentist's perspective, it is incredibly rewarding and satisfying to help change someone's life in such a positive way," she concluded.