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Early Visits to the Dentist Shape Us as Patients

We recently greeted a new patient with our usual: a warm welcome, a tour of the office and an offer of a bottle of cool spring water. But, this visit was anything but routine for the 29-year-old education administrator.

And so it was surprising to note that the otherwise sophisticated and cool professional seemed clearly uncomfortable in our office. We later learned that a bad experience as a young girl had made her deathly afraid of the dentist.

"This is a typical instance where a trauma at the dentist early in life can shape the kind of dental patient you will be as an adult," says Dr. Daniel Deutsch, at the Washington Center for Dentistry. "Stating he intended only to "check" on a very loose tooth in her mouth, the dentist instead yanked hard. The tooth was not ready to come out. Trauma resulted for the then little girl patient who had placed a lot of innocant trust in the only dental professional she knew."

The patient now is dealing with a complex problem: anxiety about dentistry and dental problems stemming from neglect from anxiety about dentistry. "Sometimes these traumas leave deep scars," says Dr. Deutsch. "So we try to ease them back into a dental comfort zone and stable health."

Dr. Deutsch's approach includes making shorter appointments that are easier to tolerate and the use of nitrous oxide and oral premedication that help ease anxiety. "All of these strategies help the patient experience a new reality in the dentist's office that is not threatening and much more comfortable," Dr. Deutsch says. "These things really work."