WHY DO PEOPLE AVOID THE DENTIST?
If you have a stubborn spouse who refuses to go to the dentist, you aren’t alone. About 60% of the population struggles to some degree with dental anxiety. This anxiety all too often manifests as avoidance of regular dental care.
It is especially common for men to put off receiving the routine, preventative care necessary to maintain their health. Men are more likely to go years in between dentist visits—typically waiting to schedule an appointment only when there is a serious problem involving pain or infection. Perhaps because of this men are also more likely to develop gum disease. One-third of men between the ages of 30 and 54 will develop gum disease compared to just one-fifth of women in the same age group.
Whether your partner is male or female, it can be frustrating to watch the person you care so deeply for continually put off getting the care they need to maintain their health. Here’s how you can finally help get your stubborn spouse to go to the dentist—long before it becomes an emergency.
NEGLECT IS COSTLY TO BOTH THEIR HEALTH AND WALLET
Dental maintenance, even for those without insurance, is cheap. It’s dental restoration that comes at a steep cost—both to your health and wallet. The longer your spouse puts off routine exams, which should be done at least twice yearly, the more they may be allowing decay, infection, and discomfort to spread. And the further these issues are allowed to spread, the more costly the treatments to fix them will become.
As Benjamin Franklin once wisely said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Routine checkups and cleanings, considered a preventative procedure by dental plans, are very often covered in full. A downright bargain compared to the thousands that restorative procedures like root canals, dental implants and—for the truly stubborn—emergency room bills will ultimately cost.
It is important to know that while antibiotics can clear up an infection caused by dental issues, they are only a temporary fix for a much larger problem. Infection from dental issues can be caused by severe tooth decay or the deep pockets that develop as a result of gum disease. Both need to be addressed by a dentist to prevent further infection and damage from occurring.
Explain to your partner the necessity of prevention procedures. If you visit the same dentist you can even coordinate your exams and cleanings to be on the same day as one another. For added accountability, plan a positive reward afterward. This could be as simple as a picnic in a local park for lunch or taking advantage of cheaper weekday ticket prices at movie theaters and museums.
BUDGET FOR THE COST TOGETHER
A common, and frustrating, occurrence for many patients who have put off seeing a dentist for years is leaving the office after an initial exam with what feels like a laundry list of dental issues. This can be incredibly overwhelming and discouraging, especially for those who had been putting off their visit to avoid the cost in the first place.
Plan a time to dedicate a few hours to sit down together to create a budget and prepare your finances for the cost of the necessary procedures. For those who can’t afford all of the work outright, which is common in these situations, have a discussion with the dentist on how to best prioritize the procedures in your spouse’s treatment plan by their level of urgency. Your dentist wants what is best for your overall health and will gladly help you do so.
Work on sticking to your family budget together. Hold each other accountable to make the necessary budget cuts, bring in extra income, and get any additional financing lined up. Not only will working together as a team help your partner manage any overwhelming feelings and frustration they may have, but it will also help them to feel that they as a person, as well as their health, are important, valued, and deeply loved.
SMALL TODAY, BIG TOMORROW
Oftentimes those who put off going to the dentist, and health care in general, are in denial of the seriousness of their symptoms. What can feel like a minor, inconvenient issue can rapidly escalate into a painful and even life-threatening problem when left untreated.
Waiting is how people end up in emergency rooms from infections that are a result of long-ignored dental issues. And this is a scenario that is happening with alarmingly higher frequency across the country. The number of emergency room patients seeking dental-related care doubled from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.1 million in 2010.
Routine dental exams and cleanings are a means of preventing and monitoring potential dental issues well before they can arise. These early signs aren’t ones patients are able to identify on their own. During your regular dental cleanings, your dentist removes any tartar buildup you may have. Tartar is the hardened form of plaque and can only be removed by a professional using specialized dental tools. Tartar buildup will lead to decay, cavities, receding gum lines, gingivitis, and gum disease. All of which can be a source of infection.
Infection, when left untreated, can get into your bloodstream where it can travel and spread throughout your body. While antibiotics can help your body to fight off this infection, they can’t fix the cause—your rotting teeth. Poor oral health is also linked with diabetes, heart disease, and, tragically when untreated, even death.
Take time to educate your partner on the consequences of ignoring their oral health. Explain how the body works as a system and the ways a seemingly small issue can very quickly become a serious, life-threatening one. Review the different steps that occur during a dental cleaning and why they are so critical to maintaining a healthy mouth.
ADDRESSING DENTAL ANXIETY
If your partner has a fear of the dentist, it’s important to approach the topic respectfully and with compassion. Shaming or trivializing their fear will only lead to them shutting down the conversation and even feeling isolated or misunderstood.
Depending on the severity of their anxiety around the dentist, there are different approaches you can take to help them overcome their fear. It is very important that, no matter the level of anxiety a person has, you never trick or force them into visiting the dentist. This could make their discomfort significantly worse as well as damage the trust in your relationship.
Dental anxiety often stems either from horror stories that have been told by others or from a bad experience of their own with a previous dentist. For those who haven’t been to the dentist in years, or even decades, it can be helpful to explain how far dental technology has evolved since they last sat in the chair. Explain how these advances are beneficial to them and that dental services are now faster, quieter, safer, and far less painful. You may even want to encourage your spouse to either schedule a meet and greet with the dentist or have them sit in on an appointment of yours to help them develop trust.
Those with a true phobia should seek out an experienced therapist specializing in treating patients with dental anxiety. They may need professional help to learn how to cope with and manage their fear.