open wide

Open wide and other terrors!

Dread, anxiety and phobias have long been studied as genuine barriers in dentistry, but has the beauty industry broken these spells of fear and loathing, and redeemed dentists forever? Jade Richardson investigates.

I’m beginning to get suspicious of ‘scientific studies’.

I don’t know why, perhaps it’s 30 years’ experience studying, reporting, and then watching them atrophy into dust, only to be replaced by other, more fashionable studies, with totally different outcomes.

Sometimes I wonder if ‘scientific studies’ are more ‘ific’ than actually science at all. Let’s have a look at the research on the number one supposed obstacle to oral health care in all the world: Fear of dentists. Yes, that’s you.

According to the National Library of Medicine, ‘Dental anxiety, or dental fear, affects approximately 36% of the population, with a further 12% suffering from extreme dental fear.’ Which, said another way, means that 48% of the people on earth are afraid of you!

A quick flurry on the calculator: Earth population as of March 2024: 8.1 billion. 48% of which … tippety tap: and presto! According to ‘scientific research’ around 3.9 BILLION people are scared of you.

Not just scared, apparently, but frightened of dentists in a way that reduces their quality of life and puts their health at risk.

This report goes, frankly, on and on and on about why this might be, but Google, after coming up with 72,200,000 results in less than 40 seconds, when asked: Why do people fear dentists? sums it up in a single word: pain.

Digging slightly deeper, Google says people fear dentists because of:

·        Previous trauma to the head and neck

·        Other traumatic experiences, including abuse

·        Generalised anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder

·        The view that the mouth is a personal area and accessing the mouth is an invasion of personal space.

All of which, I find highly suspicious, given the fact that Botox, vampire facials, laser treatments, face lifts, boob jobs, butt implants, lip augmentations, acid peels, eyelid lifts, hormone injections, liposuction, tummy tucks, skin bleaching, tattoos, piercings and genital reshaping are all totally medically unnecessary, extremely invasive and pain-positive, yet are in increasing and ever-increasing demand everywhere.

It’s just not true that pain is a deterrent in seeking and paying top dollar for medical treatments, as any provider of tattoos, boob jobs or Botox will tell you.

And it’s also not true, that cherished old idea that invasive treatments around the mouth cause a primal and natural fear or avoidance reflex. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons, for example, reports that in the USA alone more 27,000 non-medically necessary lip injections took place last year. That’s about one every 20 minutes! Elective, aesthetic, expensive, painful.

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This is actually the tip of the iceberg in terms of the massive economy and surging waitlists of people who can’t wait, actually, to pay large fees out of pocket, with zero actual medical need, for highly invasive, extremely painful procedures in delicate parts of the body, that are health-wise absolutely unnecessary.

To a Western eye, a little nip and tuck here and there, a subtle lift and smooth, was once the understandable indulgence of celebrities, porn stars and ladies of a certain age. To a Western eye, especially perhaps an Antipodean eye, keeping things ‘natural’ was the ideal. But now that Asia, Russia, Eastern Europe and the entertainment industry have arrived in full trumpet, and enthusiastically ramped up the cosmetic aesthetics stakes, it seems to me the entire ‘scientific’ conversation about fear and avoidance of dentists is going to have to be junked.

I’m daring to suggest that avoidance of dentists has a far more basic and utilitarian explanation. Something more akin to how I felt as a university student: maintaining a 20-year-old convertible VW beetle bug. Something similar to the predictable aversion normal people have to the drags and expense of standard maintenance. A resistance something like defrosting the fridge, or spring cleaning the larder, or high pressure hosing the driveway, or forking out the entire rent and food budget for a week to service the car, knowing that the benefits might be sensible, but will also be invisible.

It’s the lack of visible difference, the lack of an obvious increase in status that causes the pain and aversion, is what I am suggesting. Offer the patients more dazzling, whiter teeth, even if it’s painful and arduous: and billions voluntarily can’t wait to see their dentist.

Offer clients duck lips, swollen mammaries, HUNDREDS of injections straight into the face, or acid burns that take weeks to recover from, or complete peels of the skin by laser burn – and they’re enthusiastically signing up and paying up and not a trauma therapist nor anxiety coach is required.

Observing what seems to be the Asian and Russian ‘normal’ in terms of trauma and anxiety exposure in the marketing and provision of these services, it seems to me there’s rather a heavy lean towards traumatic and distressing images of overtly alarming and painful-looking goings on as part of attracting customers.

Facebook is constantly exposing its ‘feeders’ in Asia and Russian states with alarming mid-surgical images of vampiric-looking figures with syringes, pumps, saws, syphons and no end of beepy gadgets doing scary things to unconscious customers as part of enticing people to want to go under the knife or the needle, whatever it takes to get that upward mobility look.

The ‘before and afters’ are distressing in a different way. Ordinary people in surgical scrubs look slightly worn and torn, perhaps ‘before’ their encounters with the doctors who do these things. But the ‘after’ portraits show a gallery of fish-faced, bug-eyed, fat-mouthed scary-ish weirdos whose faces and intimate parts will forever advertise their encounters with surgeons.

As all of this carries on, and no doubt gets increasingly obvious and invasive, it’s my guess that in rapidly increasing numbers, people will be far more inclined towards feelings of safety, trust and confidence in their friendly local dentist. The pain theory will wither from the vine, and dentists, one and all, will no longer be the source of fear and trembling, but icons of common sense, good deeds and humble service to humanity.

Now there’s a Happy Ever After for you ~ have a beautiful day.

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