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How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Dentist

By Matt Richards

There was one event that never failed to inspire absolute gut-wrenching terror in my 9-year-old mind:

Going to the dentist.

Surprisingly, it was never the threat of the drill or the inevitable flossing lecture that truly terrified me. Instead, what haunted my dental nightmares was those little foam trays for fluoride.

To this day, just thinking about them gives me the willies. Something about those foam trays squeaking and sliding against your teeth and the heavy medicinal taste of the fluoride…. Yuck. They made me gag, every time.

In fact, I was so bad that the every hygienist on staff would go on full alert on the days of my appointments. Those poor, long-suffering hygienists tried so many different things to help ease the experience - bending or altering the trays, different flavors, even once painstakingly painting the fluoride directly onto my teeth to sidestep the trays altogether.

Well, here I am decades later, and, surprise surprise, I find myself working for a dental products company. What’s more, as an adult I’ve learned to not only stop dreading my dental visits, but look forward to them.

If, like me, you’ve struggled with a lifelong aversion to your local dental expert, I’ve put together a few tips that might help you learn to stop worrying and love your dentist.

#1 - Shop Around

It may sound kind of obvious, but if you’re not having a great experience with your current dentist, you might want to look into scheduling your next appointment with a different dentist.

For whatever reason, it seems like most people tend to stick with the same dentist they’ve had for years and years, even when they aren’t having a good experience. I think it’s because we tend to assume that all dentists are pretty much the same.

In reality, there are tons of great dentists out there, so there’s no need to slog through years of miserable appointments.

Making sure that you have a dentist that fits your personality and approach to oral health can go a long way towards calming your nerves and making you more comfortable at your appointments. More importantly, you’re much more likely to take your dentist’s advice seriously if you feel comfortable with and trust her.

Read some reviews online. Ask your friends for recommendations (or warnings!) If you’re feeling really gung ho about it, stop by to check out their waiting room for a few minutes, just to get a feel for the atmosphere.

In short, it’s worth thinking about the reasons you visit the particular dentist you do. If you don’t have a better reason than “I’ve always gone to that office,” you might want to consider alternatives.

#2 - Ask Questions

Taking time out of your busy schedule to visit the dentist is a big break from routine, but for your dentist, that’s just Tuesday.

What’s worse, dentists can sometimes get so comfortable with their fancy jargon that they forget that “demineralization of the lateral surface of the bicuspid” sounds like a bunch of nonsense to people like you and me.

The solution is to take some time to ask your dentist some questions.

In my experience, great dentists are excited and passionate about what they do and are more than happy to take time to answer your questions. In fact, most dentists have to spend so much time talking to patients who are only pretending to listen that someone asking questions is genuinely exciting. Asking questions is a powerful signal to your dentist that you are invested in taking personal control over your oral health, and a good dentist is going to leap at that opportunity.

Remember that whether it’s through you or your insurance, you’re actually paying a decent chunk of change, so you deserve to have everything explained to you in full detail. Ask about what procedures are going on and why, and especially ask about alternative treatment options.

#3 - Focus On Prevention

They say that when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We all know that what dentists have is a drill.

Once damage to your teeth passes a certain point, drilling and filling is really the only option to keep it from getting worse. However, what most people don’t know is that filling cavities is a Band-Aid solution at best. It gets the job done, certainly, but your teeth are never going to get back up to the same strength they had in their pre-cavity days. What’s more, most dental work isn’t designed to last forever, and is going to need to be replaced down the road.

The truth is that the most effective oral health solutions involve preventative care. However, there’s a reason you don’t hear most dentists talking about it much - prevention relies much more on you than it does your dentist. Dental professionals can be a great resource for prevention, but actually taking control of your oral health is mostly about what you’re doing at home on a daily basis.

One common mistake is to assume that brushing and flossing are the beginning and end of the oral health playbook. Brushing and flossing are kind of like your little league strategies - important and foundational, but you’re gonna need to step up your game if you want to win in the big leagues.

For example, one thing that most folks haven’t been told is that the primary cause of cavities isn’t sugar, but exposure to tooth-dissolving acid. This acid comes not only from what we eat and drink, but also from harmful oral bacteria in your mouth. Making sure to be careful about how often you’re eating acidic foods and making use of a xylitol gum like Epic to manage acid attacks at their most dangerous times can go a long way towards keeping that drill a long, long way away from your teeth.

If you have a dentist that’s willing to help advise you of preventative options like xylitol long before you ever meet the business end of a dental drill, keep her around! You’ve found a good one.

#4 - Don’t Stress About What’s Already Happened - Think Forward

Over 90% of adults in the United States have had at least one cavity during their lifetime.

If, like me, you’re part of that 90%, here’s the honest truth: you can’t change what’s happened in the past. The good news is that with the right information in hand and a bit of concerted effort, you can seize control of your oral health. Your past doesn’t have to be your future, and dwelling on it rarely helps you to move forward.

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with cavities: don’t panic. Take a deep breath. After that, talk with your dentist about your next steps. Make sure you have all the latest, most powerful oral health wisdom at your fingertips.

If you haven’t already, you should definitely read up on the cavity-crushing power of xylitol. Not only can it be a powerful preventative option, but it can help people who have been plagued with cavities fight back against the root cause in a way that their toothbrush simply can’t.

If you’re looking for some other solid starting points, here’s what I’d recommend.

Tackle Your Next Dental Appointment with Confidence

Eventually, I got tired of walking into every dental appointment full of fear.

I did some research, improved my care routine, and, most of all, started asking the right kinds of questions.

Now, what I’m supposed to say here is that my dentist and I became best friends and he stopped billing me for procedures. The truth is a bit less exciting, but, in a way, much more significant: I no longer wake up in a cold sweat after nightmares of dental drills. Instead, I find myself walking into my appointments with my head held high.

What’s more, I’m convinced that, armed with these simple tips and a little bit of elbow grease, you can, too.

How did your last dental appointment go? Did we miss any tips that you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments below!

Matt has been a part of the Epic team since 2017. He loves board games, a good book, and any excuse he can find to have a heaping bowl of ice cream.

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