The truth about visiting the dentist: It’s fun

ACTION: Adapting CANSAS to Individuals’ Own NeedsRecovery Conversation Theme #9: Health Information

By Warren Heggarty, recovering dentalphobe 

dentist fun.jpg

I’ll give you my own story. After fifteen years of hard drinking, chain smoking and not visiting the dentist, I was riddled with infected and broken down teeth. After years of ignoring the pain of dental abscesses (one of the most painful things you can have) because I was terrified of the dentist, I developed a really bad infection in the middle of the night. The doctor said that it was so bad I was likely to develop blood poisoning (sepsis) and that it could be fatal. He actually went to the (closed) dentist’s office next door and made an appointment for me! 

Fortunately I responded to the penicillin within hours, but I was crook for a week. Over 25 weekly or twice weekly visits I worked my way up from sitting in the dentist’s chair through small fillings, to root canal to a two and a half hour surgical extraction requiring stitches and post operative antibiotics. 

By the end of that, I kind of enjoyed going to the dentist, in a sick way. Better still, I was able to smile. 

Now that I have gotten your attention, I want to assure you that YOU TOO can have an oral epiphany like mine. Below are refutations of the most common arguments we use to get out of going to the dentist. 

I can’t afford it 

Private dentistry: The full cost of dental treatment is spectacular. I have had about 15 ‘root canals’ done over the years at between $1500 and $2000 a pop. You might think I’m lucky, because I have private health insurance, but often I only get a third or maybe two thirds refunded and the rest comes out of my pocket. It’s not cheap. However, I have learned to prioritise my health over many other things such as fast cars, gambling, beer (quit) and cigarettes (quit). The knowledge that I can go to the dentist of my choice when and where I like is more valuable to me than any of these things. 

One of the cheapest procedures believe it or not, is also the most radical: an extraction. However, while an extraction might allow you to get things over and done with quickly, it’s not necessarily the best choice. Dentists prefer to save your teeth. It’s healthier. 

Public dentistry: State governments provide free public oral health care (i.e., dentistry) to certain people. The NSW Health web site claims that up to 47% of the population is eligible for it, which is more generous than other states, but that figure includes all children. The full policy on eligibility is found here: Pages/doc.aspx?dn=PD2017_027 

By its own admission, the public dental system has limited resources and you will likely go on a waiting list unless you are admitted to hospital. 

The following eligibility requirements are needed in order for adults to be receive non-admitted oral health care in the NSW public sector : 

• Normally reside within the boundary of the Local Health District providing the care, and; 

• Be eligible for Medicare, and; 

• Be 18 years of age or older, and; 

• Hold, or be listed as a dependent on, one of the following valid Australian Government concession cards: 

o Health Care Card 

o Pensioner Concession Card 

o Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. 

Pain and discomfort 

Having a dental procedure is awkward and uncomfortable. Some dentists are very good at dealing with frightened patients. They know that you are beside yourself with terror, that you fear them more than anything in the world. But they want you to keep coming back, so they tend to go all out to spare you any unnecessary discomfort. As for actual pain, I have had a couple of twinges but nothing a dentist has done to me comes even close to the pain of a dental abscess. Some of the more radical procedures are actually more pleasant than having your teeth cleaned, because you are locally anaesthetised. Yes, the needle does sting a bit, especially when they administer it in the soft palate, but it is more ‘icky’ than painful. 


If you are still scared, join the club. Who wouldn’t be scared of a dude with a drill grabbing you in a headlock and letting rip on your jaw. But hang in there. After a while, though it becomes kind of… boring. 

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