David Berry gets to the root of our dentist phobia:
Most people’s fears have less to do with the cultural history of dentistry, though, than their own personal history. Sometimes that just means they’ve seen Marathon Man [see clip above], but usually it has to do with a bad experience in their past. Occasionally that means a botched procedure of some kind—true to the fascination of fear, people supposedly terrified of dentists can and do recount these experiences at some length while explaining their current discomfort… —but shame tends to be just as powerful a progenitor of dread. Phobics are not the most fabulously reliable self-reporters, but studies have suggested that up to half of even serious phobics, and more among the merely uncomfortable, have experienced nothing more traumatic than a dentist being a weapons-grade dick about how often they floss.
This is actually kind of a double-edged sword for dentists, insomuch as the longer you go without professional care, generally, the worse things get, and attempts to correct the behaviour can often just inflame the insecurity and fear. There are ways of getting you into the chair—most dentists are happy to provide either laughing gas or anti-anxiety medication, and some even specialize in just knocking you right out even for routine cleanings—but there isn’t really a way to make you floss regularly or show up ever again (at least if you’re only a dentist: cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to be fairly effective…).
About the only saving grace to any of this is that, on the whole, people’s fear of dentists tends to decrease while they age. Although, going back to that shame thing, children are as a group less afraid of the dentist than middle-aged adults; it’s only once you start to reach retirement age that your fears begin to lessen.
For more, check out the delightful little Dish thread “Deranged Dentist Names“. Update from a reader:
Our current dentist is Dr. Pullen. In our previous city we never made it to the dentist, but the one recommended to us by our real-estate agent was a Dr. Grinder. Prior to that I went to a dentist who shared his name with a bruising right-wing for the Chicago Blackhawks, Brian Noonan, who in the early ’90s was often seen performing free amateur dental work on members of the Detroit Red Wings.