Web Producer: Brad Maglinger
The American Dental Association says only about half of all Americans have ever been to a dentist, and only 40 percent of those patients go regularly. For some, noises, smells and pain they remember as children still haunt them, but they'd be happy to know that dentistry has changed.
For the longest time, you wouldn't catch Amy Klipsch anywhere near the dentist's chair. Bad experiences as a child kept her away as an adult. "You know, typical child who liked to chew gum and didn't brush her teeth. So, I had lots of cavities. It was scary. The drilling, it took a long time. It was painful," remembered Klipsch. "You know, getting a needle when you're little is scary, especially in your mouth."
Dr. Glenn Norton says an experienced dentist should know how to give a gentle injection. What's inside the syringe has also come a long way. The days where patients had to walk around with a numb mouth all day just because they had a small cavity filled are long gone. Now, anesthesia is customized to last a few minutes or a few hours, depending on what you're having done.
"We also give them instructions. If you feel anything, just raise your hand or make some noise or something because I don't want you to feel anything. If you're feeling it, something's not right," explained Dr. Norton.
Lasers are now used to control bleeding without pain. More refined drills may still make that noise everyone hates, but they work faster than the older models. Since most dentists have stopped using something called eugenol or oil of cloves as a sedative, the office smells a lot more inviting. Still too scared? Dr. Norton says you can come in for a prescription the night before your appointment to help you relax.
"Anxiety control. We do offer that, like a Valium or Halcion or something like that, but rarely does anyone take me up on it. Very rare, but it's available," Dr. Norton said.
A collapsed tooth finally sent Amy in to see the dentist. She left surprised, "It was just really fast. The drilling the quick. There was no smell. It was really an easy experience."
All modern dentists are trained to recognize problems in the mouth that could signal more serious health conditions. Evidence of immune deficiencies, diabetes, AIDS and even some forms of cancer can be detected in the oral cavity. A dentist can be an extra set of eyes for your overall health.