Most people don’t like going to see the dentist. Some of apprehensive of potential pain or discomfort; others can’t seem to fit an appointment into their busy schedule.
In more extreme cases, individuals delay dental care due to severe anxiety. Dental anxiety or dentophobia affects an estimated 15 per cent of patients who, when faced with the reality of a dental appointment, may experience signs and symptoms such as
- Racing heartbeat (tachycardia) or palpitations
- Low blood pressure and possible fainting (syncope)
- Visible distress, crying or signs of panic
- Withdrawal, or using humor or aggression to mask anxiety
There are, of course, other reasons individuals defer dental care. Perhaps this is the reason residents of Australians are significantly less likely to visit the dentist each year than people in Canada, the United Kingdom and a range of comparable countries.
Consequences of poor dental care
Although this might not sound like an overtly serious issue, avoiding in-office dental care results in a lack of preventive care. Regular dental checkups help both children and adults avoid cavities, gum disease and more while helping dentists find any problems earlier, thereby typically resulting in less need for invasive treatments.
About two million Australians annually defer visits to a dentist. High sugar diets, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption by Aussies all increase the risk of tooth decay, periodontal disease, oral infections, oral cancer and other oral conditions. More than 70 per cent of children in Australia consume too much sugar, and experience common dental problems, including tooth decay, bad breath, sensitive teach, thumb-sucking, gum disease, teeth grinding, canker sores, loss of baby teeth and over-retained primary teeth.
Fear of high costs of dental care
One of the biggest hurdles residents of the Land Down Under cite for avoiding care for their pearly whites is the fear of high costs. A report by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW) found that more than 50 per cent of Australians without dental care health insurance are postponing or skipping treatment because of the cost, and one-quarter of the 12.3 million people who have dental insurance have delayed or avoided the dentist because of the out-of-pocket fees.
After medication expenses, dental care costs are an Australian individual’s next largest health expense. Low-income populations of all ages experience the lowest access to dental care and are more likely to have periodontal disease, untreated tooth decay or missing teeth.
In Australia, there is a lack of government funding sufficient for a good public dental care system. Residents contribute more than half of the non-government funding for healthcare, and almost half of the continent’s residents buy complementary and supplementary coverage for private hospital care, dental treatment and other healthcare services.
Along with the fear of high cost and dental anxiety, poor oral health literacy is a sizable factor in Australians not procuring dental care. Defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate oral health decisions, health literacy has been found to be a strong predictor of an individuals’ health and health behavior and outcomes.
Limited health literacy is associated with poor self-ratings of health and adherence to medical instructions, a lack of self-management skills, increased mortality risks, poor health outcomes and higher healthcare costs. People with poor oral health literacy are more likely to have missed dental appointments.
Other common barriers to dental care consist of low socioeconomic status; a lack of professional training regarding current evidence-based oral health guidelines; deficient continuity of care due to inadequate interdisciplinary collaboration; and patient perceptions and misconceptions about preventive dental care. In rural communities, obstacles to oral healthcare include lack of transportation or childcare, cultural barriers and stigma and insufficient access to water fluoridation.
Recommendations for overpowering the barriers to dental care
Dentists and other dental professionals play an important role in helping Australians overcome any dental care barriers they face. They must clearly communicate with patients and educate them on the importance of prevention, especially for children. Whether it’s developing and implementing community-based oral health prevention and promotion programs or providing information on an appropriate nutritional diet, tobacco cessation, community water fluoridation or recommended daily dental care practices, dentists have a responsibility to increase patient awareness of the importance of oral health to overall health and well-being.
To help Australians reduce their fear of high costs associated with dental care, the government’s free transparency website, Medical Costs Finder, helps them understand the cost of common medical procedures provided by specialists on the continent. The Australian Dental Association (ADA) also developed a free comparator website for the dental component of extras policies.
At AirSmile, our free app enables patients to compare dentists and receive instant quotes on existing treatment proposals, thereby eliminating surprise medical bills. It provides them with an unbiased platform to ensure each Aussie has access to affordable dental care. AirSmile dentists across Australia are committed to providing high-quality and transparent dental care, an important asset for consumers looking to receive good service without paying an astronomical amount.
If you’re one of the 15 per cents of patients who experience dentophobia, MouthHealthy offers the following three ways to stop fearing the dentist:
- Speak up: If you’re tense or anxious, do yourself a favor and get your concerns off your chest. Your dentist and dental team are better able to treat you if they know your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and talk with your dentist about pain before it starts so your dentist knows how to communicate with you and make it more comfortable.
- Distract yourself: Taking your mind off the exam may seem impossible when you’re nervous, but there are some things that can help distract your thoughts. Wear headphones so you can listen to your favorite music or audiobook, or occupy your hands by squeezing a stress ball or playing with a small handheld object. Also, try imagining your happy place and visualizing yourself at a relaxing beach or garden.
- Use mindfulness techniques: Try deep breathing exercises to help relax tension in your muscles. Count your breaths. Inhale slowly and then exhale for the same number of counts. Do this five times while you’re waiting for your appointment or during breaks while you’re sitting in the dental chair. Or, do a body scan. Concentrate on relaxing your muscles, one body part at a time. Start with your head, and work your way down to your toes.
AirSmile: An Easy Way to Access Affordable Dental Care
AirSmile is a digital dental marketplace created to help Australians more easily take control of their oral health. Our primary goal is to make quality and affordable dental care accessible, and we want to eliminate any barriers that hold individuals back from having the healthy smile they deserve.
We know that Australians must be educated about the importance of routine dental care and the problems that often arise when it is neglected. Free to download from the Apple® App Store® and Google Play, the AirSmile app gives patients access to a large network of dentists while giving them enough time to digest and accept costs. For dentists, it helps to bring in more patients, especially parents interested in routine and preventive dental care for their children.