If you clicked on this link, there’s probably someone that you care about who avoids going to the dentist at all costs. Maybe you’ve already tried everything you can think of to help them, but it’s still not working. There are no magic fixes, but as your dentist, we wanted to acknowledge some of the challenges that can be associated with oral healthcare and offer some suggestions and support.
People have a variety of reasons for avoiding the dentist, but they may or may not always be able to put those reasons into so many words. If you can identify the driving force behind their refusal to go to a dentist appointment, you might be able to find ways to address the underlying challenges.
You’ll likely need to be tactful but also direct when asking questions about this because we’re guessing this might be a sore subject between the two of you already. Here are some common fears or barriers to explore, though:
Did they have a poor past experience?
This can be really hard to overcome because even though your loved one may know logically or mentally that oral healthcare has changed since that childhood or teen trauma, memory is still a powerful force that can be difficult to override. Some people are helped by the idea of sedation or general anesthetic. Others might find it helpful to think of re-acclimating gradually, e.g., scheduling a visit to just meet the dentist, discuss concerns, maybe sit in the dentist chair, and having a second visit to actually have a cleaning done.
Is it a combination of factors?
Sensory overstimulation can be a subtle cumulative factor. Sometimes the combination of new people, health questions, noises, needles, memories, enclosed spaces, feelings of helplessness, and other sensations all put together is what makes the experience so overwhelming and unpleasant. Dealing with this type of trigger might require a multi-pronged approach: scheduling the appointment at a convenient time, filling out the forms for them, identifying the answers to the health questions ahead of time and helping with the “office” side of things, listening to music while in the chair, experimenting with sedation, and coming up with an incentive or reward for after the appointment.
Are the concerns financial in nature?
Dental work can be expensive, and if their insurance plan doesn’t cover dental checkups, their hesitancy may be connected to that. If you discover that money is part of the reluctance equation, here are some things to explore: 1) payment plans [like our Care Credit options!], 2) dental “membership plans” that include annual cleanings, 3) reminders that leaving dental challenges unaddressed becomes more expensive as decay progresses from cavities to root canals to crown to tooth replacements, etc. Preventative care is definitely a financial win in the world of dentistry.
Do they just think it’s unnecessary or inconvenient?
To be honest, this might be the simplest and most common reason. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” If they are not in pain (or if they feel tough enough to “handle” any discomfort they feel), then going to the dentist for a checkup may seem completely optional, an annoyance, or an inconvenience. If this is the case, the financial and social costs of not caring for teeth (severe decay, gum disease, chronic bad breath—which can be a professional and relational impairment) might be some solid logical and practical data points for your conversation. You may also be able to help simply by volunteering to schedule the appointment and taking care of the schedule/logistics side of things.
The main takeaway here: care about the “why” behind your loved one’s behavior. Let them know that you care about their health, you want them around for a long time, and your actions are growing out of your long-term concern for them.