“White Coat Syndrome” is the real deal, especially when it’s dentists donning those white coats. Forty-two percent of Americans cop to not seeing their dentist as often as they’d like, beating out even their primary care doctors, dermatologists, and ophthalmologists for the top doc-I’m-avoiding spot.
That said, it isn’t always fear of going under the drill that’s keeping people from sliding into the dentist’s chair. From lack of insurance and sky-rocketing fees to residual angst from old appointments from not wanting to hear why they need to floss (for the millionth time…), here’s why people are skipping their annual cleanings and, even, follow up treatments, plus a little advice for overcoming these hurdles if any of this sounds a little too familiar…
#1. It’s all about the Benjamins…
The number one reason people skip out on regular dentist appointments? Money.
Forty-four percent of people don’t visit the dentist because they don’t have dental insurance. Because “affordable dental” isn’t exactly the name of the game, many patients worry they’ll wind up with a jaw-dropping bill post-appointment.
And, in reality, they should worry. While a standard office visit averages about $50 to $350 — not too crazy — start layering in add-ons and a quick visit can be anything but cheap. X-rays can run upwards of $250, cleanings can easily be $100 to $200 or more, and just having the dentist scope out your mouth can tack another $50 to $150 onto the bill. In a word: yikes.
#2. Fear of what comes next
That, though, just covers the basics. Many people dodge the dental chair not because they’re scared of the cleaning — or cleaning bill — but they’re worried about what comes next. A routine cleaning is, often, when other issues are spotted. And those issues, many report, are what keep them away from the dentist.
Whether it’s feeling anxious the second a dental drill starts whirring, fearing painful procedures or, again, knowing many of these treatments don’t come cheap, for many it’s better not to know than to know and have to deal. The more specialized procedures get, the less likely you are to find affordable dental options, especially if you’re in a major metro market. A crown in Manhattan can run upwards of $3,000, while you may be able to get one for less than half of that in other parts of the country.
The (faux) solution? Avoid the appointment and avoid the diagnoses — and the bills. And, chances are, that approach is all well and good until treatments get put off a little too long. Then, not only does the pain or discomfort becomes too much to take but, in many cases, a patient’s needs expand — what was once a simple filling is now root canal and crown, or a tooth needs to be fully extracted. Then, what began as a desire to save a few bucks becomes a much more costly proposition…
#3. Fear of what comes now
Of course, there are plenty of people with serious dental phobias — and we get it. The smells, the sounds, the scraping, the pinching…we’ve heard, seen, and personally experienced it all to understand why a trip to the dentist can conjure up all sorts of fears and anxiety.
And if that’s you, you’re not alone. Nearly 75% of U.S. adults say they experience at least some fear when sliding into the dentist’s chair. Five to 10% of those adults have a full-blown dental phobia that, in many cases, can keep then away from even a basic cleaning for years.
While we can’t totally calm your pre-dentist jitters, know this: your dentist can and will work with you to make your experience as low-anxiety as possible. For some patients it’s as simple as listening to music or podcasts during their exam — just drowning out the exam sounds is plenty to alleviate the added stress. Others wear noise-cancelling headphones and to keep their eyes closed from start to finish. Some kids even like seeing the tools ahead of time — and many parents report it reduces exam-time stress.
If you’re concerned or just feel super-stressed and can’t put your finger on it, talk to your dentist. Believe it when we say they’ve heard it more than a few times and, no doubt, have solutions to ease you into the exam chair and ensure you’re calm and comfortable during the process.
#4. Fear of being lectured…
To round out our “fear” series, the fear of being lectured also ranks pretty high on appointment-skipping patients’ lists. Almost everyone can recall a past dentist chastising them for not brushing enough — or brushing right. Then there’s the flossing conversation, which everyone seems to have at least sometimes — in short, that you aren’t flossing and that it’s damaging your teeth, gums, and overall oral health.
Here’s the thing: not flossing is a serious issue — but you already know that and, likely, know you aren’t flossing even though you should be. And, again, dentists “get it.” While they’ll probably remind and, maybe, even offer a quick tutorial on proper brushing and flossing techniques, the days of endless lecturing and fear-mongering are long gone. Most dentists recognize that style of education is totally counterproductive at best — at worst, again, it’s keeping people from getting even basic cleanings, now and in the future.
So in short, take a breath, give yourself a quick brush-and-floss and go. If your oral healthcare habits are up to par, you’ve got nothing to stress about. And if you haven’t flossed since your last appointment? Take the tutorial when it’s offered, head to the drugstore post-check up, and snag a sack of dental “flossers” — pick-like plastic tools that eliminate the need to deal with traditional floss. Many people report these flossers much easier to use.
#5. Post-Traumatic Dental Appointment Disorder
Admittedly, this one’s not a real disorder, but it’s one that’s very common, especially in the Gen X set. Now in their 30s and 40s, these patients remember sub-par — and often very painful — treatments when they were kids and, now, dodge the dentist like it’s their j-o-b. One reader recently shared a story about how, when she was 12, she had four cavities filled with zero novocaine, despite crying and begging for some sort of numbing agent. The dentist insisted the cavities weren’t that deep, and it simply wasn’t necessary. Decades later, this now 30something patient still struggles to keep to an annual appointment schedule, going five years between cleanings once.
And she’s not alone. Remember a painful extraction or traumatizing filling can keep otherwise brave adults — parents of kids who get regular check ups, even — away from the dentist for months or even years.
If you’ve had a bad experience in the past, don’t worry. Now you’re older and, likely, more inclined to speak up if something doesn’t feel quite right. Equally importantly, though, advances in dentistry in the last few decades has made everything from cleanings to braces to root canals much more comfortable for patients. So those painful fillings? Chances are they wouldn’t happen that, period.
The reality? We’re ALL busy. Between work and school and kids and commitments, there’s barely a minute to come up for air — but that doesn’t mean you should ignore dental visits.
More and more, dentists are leaning into patients’ jam-packed schedules, offering early morning, late night, and weekend hours to ensure you can get here even if your calendar seems to say otherwise. While these appointments do tend to fill up fast in many practices, consider it a prime opportunity to get on — and stick to — a consistent cleaning schedule. When you go in now you’ll set your six- or 12-month appointment on the spot, so you’ve got a date your future plans can work around.
Another good solution? Find a family dental practice and make it an outing. Book everyone in your crew for appointments back-to-back-to-back-to-back, then hit a movie or mini golf or some other fun, non-food related activity right after. Not only will your kids start building positive connotations of the dentist, but you’ll be able to check everyone off the list at once, versus shuttling spouses and kids to and from the dentist month after month.
One Solution You Can Smile About
No matter your fear, there’s one simple solution that cures them all: Smylen. Smylen offers affordable dental services, from cleanings and crowns to root canals, teeth whitening, Invisalign and even dentures. By filling open appointments on top-rated local dentists’ calendars, you save — and with transparent, upfront pricing you’ll never get a massive bill post-appointment.
That, though, is just the beginning. Feeling the time-crunch? Make a last-minute appointment. Worried about sights, sounds, smells, or getting lectured for your lax approach to flossing? Say so — again, these are highly rated, highly regarded dentists who’ve been there, done that and know how to work with patients who aren’t super comfortable in their presence. So speak up, make a note when you book, and make sure you raise your hand if you’re in pain or, simply, need a minute to collect yourself. Again, these are amazing dentists in Smylen’s amazing network — and they’re here to provide affordable dental care and get you over those fears and phobias once and for all.