CHICAGO, Illinois--Fear of the dentist plagues more than 80% of American adults, and more than half say fear may keep them from going to see the dentist, according to a new survey by the American Association of Endodontists.
Because poor dental care can lead to serious health problems, the AAE is tackling the issue head on as part of its third annual Root Canal Awareness Week, which takes place March 29-April 4, 2009.
"There are many misconceptions about dental visits and root canal treatment, in particular," said Dr. Louis E. Rossman, AAE president. "Root Canal Awareness Week is aimed at dispelling these long-standing myths and hopefully reducing anxiety around the procedure. Patients need to understand that root canals actually relieve tooth pain and are much more comfortable today thanks to new technology and endodontists' specialized training."
Fear of pain rather than personal experience causes misconceptions
While fear of pain is the top reason adults avoid the dentist, root canal treatment is the most feared dental procedure, according to the AAE survey.
In fact, adults are as afraid of getting a root canal (54%) as they are of flying on an airplane during a storm (57%) and are more fearful of the procedure than of speaking in public or interviewing for a job (both at 42%).
When asked, nearly one-third of adult respondents admitted that their fear of the dentist is based on hearing about someone else's experience rather than their own. This is an ironic situation, since an AAE survey showed most people who have had root canal treatment performed by a specialist report it actually was a positive experience.
"Dealing with patient fear isn't unique to endodontists, but because of the root canal's reputation, we have significant experience with anxious patients," said Dr. Rossman. "Given that poor oral health and tooth loss are linked to many serious medical conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, we are committed to helping people overcome their fears to ensure they prioritize necessary dental care."
The importance of specialist dental care
There are specialists in dentistry just as there are specialists in medicine (such as cardiologists, neurologists, oncologists, etc.). To ensure optimal care, the AAE recommends patients see a specialist who has advanced training for certain types of complex dental treatment, such as an endodontist for root canals.
Endodontists are specially trained to perform root canals and typically see more difficult cases. Because they do the procedure every day, they have significant experience in helping patients work through their anxiety. They also have access to technology, such as operating microscopes, which can help make the procedure more comfortable.
Erich Nitzsche, 48, of North Reading, Mass., had been nervous and apprehensive of the dentist ever since he had an uncommonly bad experience as a child. He was particularly anxious when he was told he needed a root canal. Erich spoke with his dentist, sought out and was referred to an endodontic specialist to perform the procedure, and realized afterward his fears were unfounded.
"I felt more confident about having a root canal performed by a specialist," said Nitzsche. "My endodontist helped to ease my anxiety by explaining the procedure in simple terms so I knew what to expect every step of the way. The actual procedure was painless, which totally eliminated my anxiety."
Tips for stress-free dental visits
Dental professionals and patients should work together to ensure the patient is comfortable and prepared for each visit. While there have been advances in anxiety control, including pharmacological interventions, there also are simple things patients can do to help ease their fears.
The AAE recommends the following tips for people who are anxious about the dental chair:
* Ensure open communication. At your first appointment, be open and honest about your fears. This will help you and your doctor create solutions to ease your worries, such as agreeing on a "stop" signal if you become too anxious and need a short break during a procedure.
* Ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor to fully explain any procedure, even basic cleanings. For root canals or similar treatments, ask for a brochure explaining the process or have your dentist refer you to a specialist who can describe each step.
* Distract yourself. One in five people say the noises made by dental instruments frighten them. A simple solution is to bring a portable music device with headphones to each appointment or ask your dental professional to play soothing music during the procedure.
* See a specialist. A general dentist can perform most of your dental work, but if you need a more complex procedure such as a root canal, ask to be referred to an endodontist--a dental professional with advanced technology and training.
Root Canal Awareness Week
Sponsored by the AAE, Root Canal Awareness Week provides an opportunity to dispel myths about root canal treatment and increase understanding of the procedure as one that is virtually painless. The week also seeks to raise awareness of endodontics as a specialty and highlight the importance of endodontists, the dentists who specialize in root canal treatment.
For more information on local Root Canal Awareness Week activities or to find an endodontist in your area, visit Root Canal Awareness Week.
For more information, visit the AAE Web site at American Association of Endodontists.
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