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Friday, 17 March, 2000, 12:21 GMT
Are you scared of the dentist?

Does the sound of the dentist's drill bring you out in a cold sweat? Would you rather suffer severe toothache than be pinned into a chair by a person in white, armed with glinting silverware and rubber gloves?

One in four people in the UK feel anxious about going to the dentist, according to a survey by the British Dental Association. The reasons they give vary from bad experiences in the chair as a child to the sound of the drill and the thought of an injection.

Does the thought of a filling reduce you to a shivering wreck? Or is the pain nothing compared to the "good old days" when visiting the dentist was akin to an anaesthetic-free torture chamber. Send us your views and experiences.

Your Reaction

Being British but living here in Canada I must say that going to the dentist here is a much 'easier' experience than going to my old dentist in England. And in response to Ms Spencer from the USA, I don't ever recall seeing an English person with broken yellow teeth in my life. We British say you Americans have big mouths, come to think of it, Canadian say the same thing too.
Rick McMann, Canada

Many of the posting on this list reflect a common theme.... FEAR. Who is to blame? Our profession of course. I am a dentist, and love my job. I get to meet all sorts of people, and change their faces from no smiles, to one of the biggest smiles they have ever had between their ears. Just have a look at our website UK Smiles. As always, it is the horror stories, the pain, the swelling and the agony that hit the headlines. Most of these are due to comments like "I never attend unless in pain" or "my friend said he was a butcher".
If only people would go to see a member of a hygiene team every 3 to 4 months, then most of the problems we see day in and day out would be historical. I am very proud to lead a team where smiles are created everyday.
Dr Julian Holmes, England

I will only go to a dentist if it a dire emergency. Over the years I have come to believe that whether or not you need one a dentist will always try and replace a filling. I have not had one replaced for 14 years even though I was told it will only be a matter of months before it falls out - perhaps its the only way they can make money.
Joseph, UK

I think we all get nervous at the dentist. But, my dentist has gone a long way to making the surgery as pleasant as possible. When I compare this to my doctor's surgery, it makes my doctors look like the ark! Music, TV, flowers, nice surgeries...well, as good as it gets!!
Jon Smith, UK

This is just another example of the great British tradition of tolerating disgraceful service.

Anthony, Germany
I had my best British dental experience at an RAF dentist. I believe that too many (not all) dentists in Britain are carrying out unnecessary work in order to fill their pockets. Can't we find a way to reward preventative rather than destructive dentistry?
And as for the comments from the American contributors; Feel free to mock, scorn or groan in disbelief. This is just another example of the great British tradition of tolerating disgraceful service. We all start off with the same gums, so why do our teeth have to finish up so different?
Anthony, Germany

I'm stumped wondering what inspires a person to want a career where they spend a lot of time sticking their fingers in other peoples mouths.
Mark Schuller, Australia

The pain is indeed unavoidable...but hey, so what? Why should we be afraid of the dentist because of that? Are women afraid of their babies when they give birth? NO. And that hurts a lot more than an injection. Dentists are no more sadistic than gynaecologists are, so stop slandering them!
Mina A T, Scotland, UK

Thanks for this forum, it really helps to find there are others with the same fears. My problem is not with any anticipated work requiring done (I tell myself that modern anaesthetics are reliable, despite my experiences.) No, my problem is with the initial check-up, and having my (un-anaesthetised) mouth being poked around by that sharp probe. Sorry, I can't think about it any more, cold sweats breaking out...
Stuart, Scotland

My first dentist didn't believe in anaesthetic.

Sarah Blake, UK
My first dentist didn't believe in anaesthetic. He certainly never gave me any when I was having fillings as a child. My second dentist once gave me an injection then left me in the waiting room while she saw to someone else. By the time she got back to me the anaesthetic had mostly worn off! I refuse to go back to a dentist unless I am already in the most severe pain.
For some reason I am reminded of a song from 'Little Shop of Horrors' - 'Son, be a dentist: you have a talent for causing things pain!'
Sarah Blake, UK

Less people would have a problem if more dentists were sympathetic to their fears. Bedside manner should be taught at dental school.
Lee Cramman, UK

In our training care of the patient is stressed, almost to breaking point, not just care of teeth.

Simon Khoury, England
As a dental student I am obviously sticking up for dentists but I have to say that I have had a lot of treatment myself; orthodontics, teeth taken out and fillings. In our training care of the patient is stressed, almost to breaking point, not just care of teeth. We have to endure a lot of work done to us by our student colleagues and I think younger dentists of today are appreciative of the stress that people suffer from dental treatment.
We try to do everything we can to make it as comfortable as possible. But at the end of the day if someone would rather not visit a dentist they will have to accept their dental heath will not be checked and they may have problems which go untreated.
Simon Khoury, England

I've just turned 24 and have thankfully never had to have a tooth pulled. I totally DREAD the day I have to go and have some drilling done. It's been about 3 years since I last visited the dentist, and 3 years before that visit as well. I'm just hoping that I'll get the same response when I go again "Nope, your teeth are fine." I brush my teeth morning and night, in about 20 seconds, and eat very few sweets. It works for me.
Ross Marnie, Scotland

Bad breath, yellow teeth, black and blue spots on those broken half size ugly teeth. These are what I see whenever I am talking to somebody from 'Great Britain'. What is your problem?! Why do you people torture the rest of us by putting this sad display of your 'first world' culture of hygiene?!
Ms Spencer, United States of America

Had to laugh at the wry comment from the US. I lived there for two years and can confirm that US dentistry does make ours look medieval. Those Brits who think American kids look funny in braces should check out the adult population. No sign at all of the snaggle-toothed, gummy look we favour here in Britain...
Paul Hicks, UK

I'd much rather have my mouth probed with a metal pick than have all my teeth fall out!

Zaki Moosa, South Africa
I can't believe what I am hearing in the press these days. The portrayal of the dentist is of some kind of ogre, a figure to fear. I do understand why people do fear the dentist's chair, but underhanded comments like 'being a dentist is a license to print money' are out of order. The vast majority of dentists are professional and caring, executing the treatment with the minimum discomfort possible. Sometimes, pain is simply unavoidable, and there is nothing that the dentist can do about it. The dentist is well paid, but spare a thought for him as a person. Constant concentration for nine hours a day, years of study and ongoing training, out of hours work, and the day-to-day running of the practice (not to mention the bad breath) deserves good compensation. Long live the dentist!
Nik Maini, Scotland, UK

I am appalled with most of the dentists in this country. As soon as they were given a chance to exploit the dental misery of the British, all too many of them jumped at it. Prices have rocketed and they will find fault in healthy teeth in order to make a profit. Now, horror stories have started to emerge of cowboy dentists who ruin people's teeth. I would not trust any dentist who is more concerned with my wallet than my teeth. Take a good look at the attitudes towards dentists. This is what will happen if you make the whole health service private.
Richard Powell,

The expense is undoubtedly the most terrifying part of dental treatment in the USA

Mick Washbrooke, UK/USA
I was routinely terrified of dentists until I came to California to live. Although the expense is undoubtedly the most terrifying part of dental treatment in the USA, they showed me that I could be a participant in my treatment, rather than a helpless victim pinned to the chair, as I experienced in the UK. Now I'm no longer afraid of the dentist and go regularly (though still wince when my credit card bill arrives).
Mick Washbrooke, UK/USA

I shall be forever grateful to my parents for instilling in me the need to attend the dentist's on a regular basis. I have had my wisdom teeth removed swiftly when it became necessary and have no fear of attending for a check-up every 6 months. In fact I get more perplexed about going to get my hair cut!
M J Adams, UK

After horrible experiences with orthodontics as a child I didn't visit a dentist for about 12 years during my teens, and paid a price with the condition of my teeth. I've since been to three different dentists on regular occasions and can honestly say I've never experienced any pain. Find a dentist you trust not to carry out unnecessary work (by other people's recommendations is a good start) and stick with him.
Christina, London

You think you are scared to go to the dentist, how do you think the dentists feel themselves. They have the highest percent of suicide rate among all categories of medicine. I don't blame them, I mean who likes looking into the filthy, stinking, germ-filled, infected teeth and gums of patients everyday. It isn't a pretty site!
Reetu, USA

I seem to suffer from claustrophobia when I sit in a dentist chair and wish to escape as soon as possible. I would love to know the best way of coping with this as I have to visit the hygienist regularly, and it is not getting any easier.
Kim, UK

I've spent far more time in various dentists' chairs than I'd care to remember. I've had my share of bad dentist although I finally have found one who is excellent. She does everything possible to make things as painless and as quick as possible. I had a filling replaced last week, spent less than 15 minutes in her office, about 7 minutes in the chair. No anaesthetics needed. It's not pleasant and the vibrations of the drill through my skull aren't something I enjoy, but overall better than going without.
Sean M., Florida, United States

I have not been for the dentist for 11 years and I don't think I will go again unless I am in severe pain. It's not that I am scared of dentists, it's just that I feel uncomfortable having my teeth prodded and poked by metal instruments.
The last time I went, when I was 16, I recall having my gums injected with an instrument which looked like a mediaeval torture device. One other consideration is cost - dental treatment is very expensive and I have heard of cowboy dentists all too willing to rack up charges for filling perfectly healthy teeth. Overall, I think I will take the risk of looking after my teeth myself.
Glyn Coy, UK

From my own experience, it is better to undergo the pain either in filling or extraction and subsequent filling of my teeth regularly if IT IS NECESSARY. My society in the academia has such a low opinion of individuals who have been left with fewer teeth and some gaps. In fact they would even discriminate against you often times. So to the dentists, it is all thumbs up for you.
Akello Grace, Uganda

The painful part of visiting the dentist is parting with the money afterwards.

Steve Thompson, England
The painful part of visiting the dentist is parting with the money afterwards. I suffer from epilepsy and take a medication that causes a strange problem with my gums as one of its (many) side effects. This is Gingival Hypotrophy - where the gums grow up between the teeth. I believe my dentist has been cashing in on this and giving me loads of dental work that I don't need. I brush three times a day after meals, floss, rinse with an anti-plaque solution. Last visit cost me £212 and the one before cost me £188. Before I started on this medication, I had ONE filling from when I was 18 (11 years ago).
Wish I was a dentist - it's license to print money!
Steve Thompson, England

The temptation to make jokes about British indifference to dentistry and the resulting consequences is very powerful, but in the interests of transnational harmony, I will refrain. This time.
Rath Andor, USA

I had oral surgery three weeks ago to remove a tooth in my gums. It was a very painful experience both before and after the operation but it was well worth it and I'm not in any pain Fear of the Dentist is often due to thinking the worst when the reality isn't that bad
Jason Thomas Williams, UK

People who are dentally phobic need special care - and dentists are being trained to provide that care at a seminar organised by the BDA today.

Chris Coates, UK
Dentists are a heavily monitored profession because of the system of payment under the NHS. Dentists have to make a claim for the costs of treatment by filling in a payment claim form and sending it to the Government's Dental Practice Board, which pays dentists. If a dentist has an unusual prescribing pattern, this will be picked up by the DPB. Dentists must provide appropriate standards of care to their patients. In the few cases when they do not, they can be struck off the dental register by the profession's regulatory body, the General Dental Council. The GDC regulates all dentists, whether NHS or private.
People who are dentally phobic need special care - and dentists are being trained to provide that care at a seminar organised by the BDA today. Twisting a story like this plays on people's fears, rather than doing anything positive to help them.
Chris Coates, UK

It wasn't until I came to Mexico that I realised that local anaesthetics didn't have to be horribly painful. My experiences as a child at the hands of a sadist in the UK who conducted all fillings without anaesthetic left me permanently traumatised.
In contrast, here in Mexico most people have teeth far better than what you see in the UK. As an example of cost, permanent bridge, involving two crowns plus all the construction, and several visits, cost me just $450 recently (about UKP 300)
Clive Warner, Mexico

I'm having my first check up in 3 years tomorrow and I am already hanging my head in shame at the thought of facing the dentist!!!!

Belinda, UK
It's not so much the pain that bothers me (I have no problem asking for anaesthetic) but rather the sense of guilt which is inflicted upon you if you haven't been for a while! I'm having my first check up in 3 years tomorrow and I am already hanging my head in shame at the thought of facing the dentist!!!!
Belinda, UK

The thought of having to make that dreaded visit to my local dentist is one of sheer distaste. I would refuse to go as a child and this has continued into my mid thirties. When will archaic manual methods of dentistry be replaced on the NHS with more user friendly technologies.
Dr Mayes, UK

I'm only scared of the exorbitant prices they charge and the chances of being conned, thanks to their being a closed shop as bad as any trade union creation. After all, you couldn't believably claim that people study something as uninspiring as dentistry for altruistic rather than mercenary reasons!
Mick Philby, Canada

No way am I going back into a dentist's surgery unless I'm already in excruciating pain.

Matt, UK
I had to have root canal surgery on my upper right incisor as a child. The process was long and painful, and the dentist had to screw in a reamer into the back of my tooth and electrify it. This was okay in itself as it was earthed and he had removed the nerve from that tooth earlier, but one time he said "tap the couch if it hurts". He screwed it in 1 turn too far & it was agony.
Later, as a teenager, I had to have root canal work done on the left upper incisor, and the dentist I visited this time was much quicker and much less painful. After only three visits, she said "Okay, all done now." I said "So, does that mean you've finished on this tooth and I don't have to come back for more work?" She said yes.
Six months later, I had an abscess in that tooth, where a different dentist told me the previous lady had left in a temporary dressing with cotton wool wadding in the tooth itself. No way am I going back into a dentist's surgery unless I'm already in excruciating pain.
Matt, UK

I am utterly terrified of attending the dentist's. My dentist is excellent, I underwent many years of orthodontics to correct major problems with my jaw and teeth without fear, and I brush and floss regularly, but the sound of the drill fills me with a cold dread.
Tracy, England

If you are concerned about pain at the dentist now, just think back 100 years!
CF, England

Maybe there should be specially trained child dentists to remove the first encounter fears.

Mikko Toivonen, Finland
It is not only the British who get shivers of dentists. Also the Finnish bears like myself start shivering even of plain sign: Dental Surgeon. You indeed prefer taking the pain to the last and risk loosing the tooth before you visit a dentist (many of us that is). It would be nice if something more comfortable than current boring and drilling could be developed for dental care.
It is not funny but most people being terrified of dentists have had a lousy experience when they were children. Same with me. Maybe there should be specially trained child dentists to remove the first encounter fears.
Mikko Toivonen, Finland

My nan used to dig her bad teeth out with a penknife.

Jenni, UK
Does anyone like going to the dentist and would any dentist expect his clients to enjoy going? It is a necessary evil. I have had such toothache that I cried with relief when the dentist gave me an anaesthetic and took the pain away.
I can't imaging anyone actually looking forward to going unless they're in severe pain. I have recently had two wisdom teeth extracted under local anaesthetic by my dentist - yes, it hurt, but the pain didn't last beyond 24 hours and won't stop me going back again. It's much better nowadays - my previous dentist (lately deceased) was so drunk by lunchtime you would never arrange an afternoon appointment. My nan used to dig her bad teeth out with a penknife if the pain got too bad, rather than visit the dentist and she was eligible for free treatment.
Jenni, UK

I have been to a dentist only twice in my life (no annual check ups, thank you!), having been blessed with an excellent set of teeth, had no bad experience, but am still terrified of the dental chamber. Haven't figured out yet if it is an inherited fear or just a monster created by my imagination...but it doesn't matter, cause I ain't going to visit for a long, long time!
Anita Menezes, Canada

My dentist knew I was in this pain but said I should grin and bear it.

Lorraine Bridges, UK
I used to go to a dentist regularly and I have good. teeth. However the last time I visited the dentist that I went to before I left home and came to London I experienced the worst pain of my life. My dentist was drilling onto a nerve so hard that I could barely keep my mouth open and it brought tears to my eyes. My dentist knew I was in this pain but said I should grin and bear it, I find it hard to believe that nothing could be done about this. I now feel extremely apprehensive about finding a dentist in London and it makes me go cold to think I might have to go through that pain again.
Lorraine Bridges, UK

The thought of pain makes us get scared of the fact that we do no want to get our teeth in a better shape...when it's the right thing to do¿which one is better, pain or health? I say eliminate the pain somehow.
Selena, Hong Kong

I am truly terrified of dentists. When I have to visit one, which I can no longer really afford to do as I am living in London, I have to dig my nails into my thumb under the bib even if it is just a check up. This served the purpose of diverting my thoughts of pain to my hand rather than mouth.
As a child a dentist stuck a probe into a live nerve in one of my front teeth and I have since had three abscesses removed from the root of the same tooth. In the waiting room I have cold sweats and am irritable to all around me for about a week before seeing a dentist. So, Yes I would say I have a bit of a problem visiting the dentist.
Al, UK

My advice is find a good dentist (it shouldn't hurt) and some are very reasonable on costs.

Stephen, Scotland
I had a bad experience with a dentist at school and didn't see a dentist for almost 10 years, now I go every 6 months and sometimes more regularly for a clean and polish, my advice is find a good dentist ( it shouldn't hurt ) and some are very reasonable on costs and stick with it, I dread the idea of dentures and a few fillings and the odd extraction then the pain is worth it if I can retain my own teeth.
Stephen, Scotland

My fear of dentists started at primary school when the local dentist visited. This production line system, caused undue fear and pain to unsuspecting children. I have since found a dentist and told him of my (irrational?) fear. He is sympathetic and always explains procedures prior to starting them as well as telling me that should I feel uneasy or in pain raise my hand and he will stop any work straight away.
This has worked for me and I hope that people will try to find a dentist who understands their fears and will help them relax.
Graham Cuthbert, Scotland

Everything about the place - the smell, the bright lights, the enormous reclining chair, the fish tank - scare the life out of me. And the fact that the phrase "You'll just feel a little pulling sensation..." really means "I'm about to drill through some of the most sensitive nerves in your body without giving you any anaesthetic!"
Gavin Haslehurst, Bristol, England

They really do try to alleviate the anxiety as much as possible.

Faye, USA
Dentistry is a lot different now than when I was a child, but my childhood memories still linger on. I have been afraid of going to the dentist for many years and am just now getting over it.
I have learned that as I get older, I can draw the line on certain procedures and can request anaesthetic for most any procedure that will cause pain. Most dentists in the US stay up to date and are pretty sensitive to their patients' fears and concerns. They really do try to alleviate the anxiety as much as possible.
Faye, USA

The pain was unbearable and I left in tears.

Nikki, UK
I was fine as a child, I got treatment by the RAF Dentists who were always exceptional and very good with children. I changed my opinion on dental treatment when I had to see a locum, who although gave me the injection I requested, started work straight away. The pain was unbearable and I left in tears (I just hope she never works on children!). Although I still panic when I go to the dentist I have found one I trust, the problem is he's now going private, and I can't afford it.
Nikki, UK

Many private dentists perform unnecessary work to make extra money. This is both unscrupulous and dangerous. As for fillings, I find that regular use of something called a "tooth brush" avoids them altogether.
Brendan Fernandes, England

My last visit to the dentist (5+ years ago) left me with bleeding gums and a lot of trouble eating for three or four days. I had no real work done, just a cleaning. I dread to think what problems I would have happened had the chap needed a needle or drill!
JI, Scotland

The pain is worth the pleasure.

Rajamani, Hong Kong
Thanks to a dentist I have a beautiful set of upper and lower teeth which my wife says has made my smile seductive and my appearance youthful looking. The pain that I went through in extracting all my teeth over a period of two months is nothing fearful when I think of all the positive results. I am 65 years young and recommend dentist to anyone. The pain is worth the pleasure.
Rajamani, Hong Kong

The thought of an injection in your gums is enough to put me right off. For this reason I only go to the dentists for none but the most extreme of toothaches. Another reason too is the cost of treatment.
Shazad Ali, UK

The only reason I don't go to the dentist is cost. I would rather have all my teeth fall out than have the pain associated with treatment (both physical and wallet!)
Do you get treatment that you require? As a child when forced to attend regular check-ups I received quite a few fillings! Now as an adult I have had no teeth problems and have not been to the dentist in over 10 years. (I have always cleaned my teeth thoroughly)
PP, England

Paying dentists based on how much permanent damage they inflict upon your mouth is no way to run, what should be a public service.

Colin, Netherlands
When I lived in the UK, I rarely visited a dentist and certainly didn't trust them. I don't visit dentist now. I haven't had a bad experience with a dentist, but when I was unemployed I visited three dentists and was told I needed fillings. One said I needed four fillings, the second said three and the one I accepted said one. I don't know whether it's still the case, but paying dentists based on how much permanent damage they inflict upon your mouth is no way to run, what should be a public service.
Colin, Netherlands

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See also:

09 Mar 00 | Health
One in four 'fear dentist'
26 Feb 00 | Health
Dentist training 'inadequate'
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