When patients first meet me, the most common greeting that I hear is "I hate dentists." I am told this at least once a day. I think it's the only occasion in modern society that it's perfectly acceptable to tell someone you hate him within the one minute of meeting him. It's so ubiquitous in my profession that it's a regular joke between dentists. I've always wondered if physicians get "I hate doctors" as often as dentists do, but somehow I doubt it. Now I will admit that I understand the "hatred" of dentists. Generally, people who hate dentists see me when they are in pain as they've avoided the dentist for as long as possible due to fear. Also rarely is anyone in a good mood when they have likely been up all night with a toothache. Finally, the fear of costs of treatment generally sparks some amount of loathing towards the dentist. While I accept that these are common reasons to dislike me, I want to share a few great reasons why you should love us dentists.
One reason to love us is that we are constantly trying to put ourselves out of business through prevention. Dentistry as a whole supports public water fluoridation which is the cheapest and most effective way to prevent tooth decay. Putting fluoride in the water has reduced dentists' paychecks more than anything else has. I won't go into water fluoridation as it will be the topic of a later blog post. Also, people see the dentist for a check-up of their teeth more often than they see a physician for a check-up of everything else. People who get regular cleanings and exams generally spend far less money caring for their teeth than those who see us whenever a tooth hurts. The last way dentistry tries to bankrupt itself is by the plethora of cheap yet effective dental hygiene products available over the counter at your local pharmacy. I think that the only section larger than the oral hygiene products at Walmart is the hair care product selection. You can purchase toothpaste and mouth rinse in every flavor from bubblegum to peppermint. You can purchase a toothbrush for less than 1 dollar or buy an elite electric one for around 300 bucks. There is bacon flavored floss. There is no good excuse not to care for your teeth.
Second, dental schools produce a lot of dentists (about 5000 each year), and you should be able to find a dentist whom you like. Because dental school selects dental students primarily based on college grades, most of us are nerds, but we are still nerds who have to work different people each day. Many dentists entered this field specifically for the interaction with patients, and as I discussed in a previous post, one reason that I became a dentist because I always enjoyed my dentist as a child. I think that dentistry attracts people pleasers, and we dentists want to have happy patients. Along those same lines though, I know that I can't be the dentist for everyone. If I'm not the right dentist for a patient, I want them to find a dentist with whom they are comfortable. It doesn't hurt my feelings when my patients go see another dentist as I want each person to find her appropriate dentist. I think most people who hate the dentist haven't tried to find one they like as they assume that we are all the same. I can confidently say that you can find a dentist who fits your needs within your area.
The third and perhaps most practical reason to love us is that whether you want to or not, you will eventually need to see a dentist. If you decide not to see one, your teeth will decide when you will. When tooth problems happen, it is often on a Friday night when no dentist is open, or it's the day of a job interview. When you come on your own terms to do a dental cleaning, you can experience that amazing feeling of polished teeth. If any problems are found, cheaper and less invasive treatments can be done. All painful cavities were small cavities at one point. I would much rather do a small filling for a patient that takes five to ten minutes than have to do a root canal that takes an hour or longer and costs five to ten times more than the small filling.
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I realize if you are reading this, I am preaching to the choir. You probably go to the dentist once or twice a year, and you likely know your dentist and the dental hygienist. If you are one of those that hate seeing the dentist, I challenge you to pull up Google and search for a dentist near you. Read the reviews about the dentists and look at their websites. Ask your friends which dentist they see. Make an appointment at a dentist for a checkup and cleaning. I'd be willing to bet that you can find a dentist who has an appointment available within the next week. If you like the dentist, then make another appointment at the office. If you don't like the dentist, then find a new one. I promise you that if you look around and meet your local dentists that you will find one that can take good care of you. You might even start actually liking the dentist.