In dental denial: Why men like me don't go to the dentist
Despite scary stats, ample health insurance and illogical rationale, I still struggle to make and stick to an appointment
There’s no nice way to put this, so I’ll just keep it simple and to the point. I hate dentists.
I don’t mean that in the literal sense, however. I’m not gathering an army of plaque-loving followers to wipe the drill-toting monsters from the face of the planet. In fact, I’ve known some dentists personally and they’ve always seemed like perfectly nice people.
I’ve even spent a couple of hours over dinner with a dentist in the past without being tempted to resort to violence. In fact, I’ve been quite grateful to dentists on occasion. It’s very helpful of the British Dental Association and the American Dental Association to put their recommendations on the back of tubes of toothpaste to make my trips to the supermarket easier, and reassure me that the one I select won’t turn my teeth into a frothing pile of acidic stumps.
So I don’t hate dentists the people. I don’t even dislike the places, as such. A dentist’s office could have a selection of interesting magazines in the waiting room, a particularly friendly receptionist or a favourite tune humming away on MTV. There’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s the whole concept that I detest. The idea of paying money to lie in a plastic chair, stretching your jaw in directions you didn’t even know existed, for what seems like hours. At times, someone might even stick sharp metal objects into sensitive parts of your mouth, and actually drill into your skull. That’s not healthcare, it’s a scene from a Saw movie.
It’s not the needles and drills
so much as being forced to lie
there with your mouth open for
an unreasonablylong time
The result of this is that I only visit the dentist when pain actually compels me to, and last weekend was one of those occasions. Needless to say, this approach presents its own set of problems. The last time I visited the dentist was four years ago when, once again, an agonising ache dragged me over the threshold of the toothy torturers.
My eventual begrudging appearance in the chair of doom revealed not only an aching tooth, but the accumulated damage of four years’ worth of dental neglect, requiring several root canal surgeries and at least another two visits. I should feel lucky. I forget exactly how many visits I needed on that 2015 occasion, but it was close to double figures and eye-wateringly expensive.
I’m not alone. Perhaps my own avoidance of dental treatment is a desperate attempt to stay in touch with the younger generation. A 2017 study by the American Dental Association found that 30 per cent of millennials in the US have untreated tooth decay. In a perhaps not-entirely-unrelated statistic, the association also noted that 69 per cent of healthcare plans in the US don’t include dental cover.
I, however, can’t use that excuse. I currently do have dental cover. It’s limited, sure, and I won’t be getting any Californian-style pearly white chompers out of it, or hosting any daytime game shows, but it’s certainly enough to cover everyday fillings and a clean and polish. Doubtless more than enough if, rather than appearing chez dentist every four or five years with debilitating toothache, I simply went for an annual check-up, probably requiring half an hour of dental work each year rather than four hours or more every five years.
So, if I don’t have the excuse of cost or lack of insurance, what other reasons could be keeping me from availing of a regular incisor inspection?
Another recent study, this time by the US Academy of General Dentistry, found that men are 30 per cent less likely to attend regular dental check-ups than women, so clearly I’m just staying true to gender type. Beyond cost, the most common reasons given were fear, inconvenience and that “men don’t see a need to visit the dentist”.
I wouldn’t honestly say I’m afraid of the dentist. I don’t quake at the thought of going, and I don’t have an unnaturally low pain threshold. I just hate it. It’s not even the needles and drills so much as being forced to lie there with your mouth wide open for an unreasonably long time. It’s just really unpleasant.
So is it inconvenience? Not really. I mean sure, I could be watching a movie or checking the football results, but I hate having haircuts, too. That requires a similar time commitment while sitting in one place with a lack of external stimuli. I still manage it every few weeks though.
That leads us to “don’t see the need”, and I’m ashamed to say, there could be an element of truth in this. Of course I am aware there is a need for dental hygiene, otherwise I wouldn’t clean my teeth twice a day and I would mock the very existence of dentists. But slavishly going every year – dentists actually recommend twice a year – when there’s no immediate cause for concern? That seems above and beyond the call of duty. When you need a haircut you can see the fact. I don’t go for an annual medical check-up either, but you can be sure that if I think I’m having a heart attack I’ll be straight to the doctor in a flash. It’s the same for toothache.
Of course, I know this is illogical and makes no sense. Even as I type the words I can feel the wrongness oozing from my fingertips. But does this mean that, 12 months from now, I’ll remember that feeling and book a check-up? Probably not.
Hopefully you can at least learn from my objective realisation that I really should change my attitude, and at least get a check-up yourself. It really will save you time, money and pain in the long run.
Updated: June 27, 2019 05:47 PM