“My teeth are the worst the dentist has ever seen; I feel guilty, ashamed, and scared of ‘The Lecture’. I’m worried that the dentist will berate me, humiliate me, or judge me.”
Research has confirmed what we’ve known all along: that “intense embarrassment due to poor dental status or perceived neglect, often with fear of negative social evaluation as chief complaint”, is extremely common among people suffering with dental phobia (Moore et al, 2004).
This is the vicious circle of dental phobia: whatever caused the phobia initially (be it painful or traumatic experiences, hurtful remarks, or something else) leads to avoidance, which in turn means no access to professional dental care, usually resulting in poorer oral health, and at some stage the results of this “neglect” are perceived to be so embarrassing that it’s totally impossible to see a dentist, even when in pain. If shame, embarrassment and guilt are keeping you away from seeing a dentist, you’ve got plenty of company!
First of all – it’s highly unlikely that any dentist hasn’t seen teeth which aren’t as bad as or worse than yours – if you don’t mind graphic photos, check out this page: “My teeth are the worst the dentist has ever seen!”
Embarrassment is perhaps THE most common concern voiced by people who haven’t been to a dentist in a very long time. It may come as a surprise to some that the days when “the lecture” was part-and-parcel of a visit to the dentist are gone. Dentistry has evolved into an industry which supplies a service to the potential customer – you!
This development mirrors trends seen throughout society. The authoritarian parenting model which used to be so popular has fallen out of favour big-time, to be replaced by tender loving care and open communication. Similarly, dentists nowadays realize that admonishing people is a sure-fire way of keeping them away. Many dentists now endeavour to make dental appointments a positive experience, not only for those whose teeth are in great shape!
As always, beware – there may still be some old-school dentists around who see “lecturing” and negative remarks as a good way of frightening people into compliance. But this has become increasingly rare.
The psychology of embarrassment is pretty interesting. Studies, for example by sociologist Andre Modigliani, have shown that shy people with high levels of empathy – the ability to imagine how others may be feeling – can be more easily embarrassed. Easy-to-embarrass people also have a tendency to believe that others see them as somehow inadequate.
The good news is that the mortification is mostly in your own mind. Research has shown that most onlookers are actually very sympathetic when others embarrass themselves – and that people who are embarrassed and simply admit to it are tremendously well liked.
Other factors which make a sense of shame and embarrassment so common when it comes to dental fear and phobia may include an emphasis on beauty and perfection in modern Western society and – dare I mention it – the fact that the mouth is an erogenous zone.
It may help to know that from the operator’s (that is, the dentist’s) perspective, the situation looks very different. They’ve been trained to help people who are experiencing problems with their teeth and gums – it’s their job to fix these problems. And a lot of dentists view their job as a caring profession – which is what it should be.