Skipping the dentist can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, college students stop going because when they were kids their parents made their appointments. Sometimes switching where you live or your dental insurance because of work, can make it impossible to see a dentist you have gone to for years and trusted. One thing we are seeing commonly brought up at the office is that many families stopped going to the dentist in 2020 and 2021, and that prolonged time where they weren’t going to the dentist, has made them nervous about returning. This is very common. Many people can get anxious about a medical visit if they think something might be wrong, and a common anxiety is that if you skip the dentist for two long, the odds of having a cavity or needing a root canal are going to be higher. In this article, we will discuss why you might have not seen the dentist in a while, what to do about it, and whether or not you should be at all worried.
The pandemic made many people cancel their routine medical appointments. Many offices actually had to cancel appointments in the early months of 2020. This led to many patients, especially adults, to not reschedule or skip appointments. As the pandemic continued it became easier to put off seeing a dentist or a doctor because routine checkups were considered non-essential. However, one common thing that we often see, is that prolonged periods of time where you do not see a dentist, can lead to anxiety about returning to the dentist. If you potentially went over a year without a dental visit, you might worry about what your first visit back might be like.
This is ironically one of the largest reasons people continue to put off a return visit to the dentist, which is a shame. When dentists asks new patients, when was the last time you came to a dentist, and hear that it has been a year, five years, or even longer, they will often ask why. And while the initial reason that a visit was skipped might have been because of a move, change insurance, or other life event, the on-going reason is a fear that their first return visit is going to be a negative one.
Let’s discuss a few things. First and foremost, unfortunately, it is true that not seeing the dentist is bad for your oral health. Dentists prescribe preventative care to patients. Exams, x-rays, sealants, fluoride treatments, and professional teeth cleaning go a long way in protecting your teeth. Seeing a dentist twice a year ensures that bacteria and plaque don’t have a long period of time where they are unchecked and damaging your teeth. So unfortunately, avoiding a dental visit for years, means it’s possible but not guaranteed that you might have a cavity.
But that should be the reason you return not the reason you avoid. There is often this misplaced fear of finding out you have a cavity. This is often because as a kid, finding out you had a cavity could be really scary. But, what’s important to understand is that cavities aren’t a punishment for not taking your care of your teeth, they are a real dental concern. And cavities grow, spread, and eventually cause tooth loss. As dentists, we want to tell you that there are no issues, but if there are issues we want to catch them today, not in another year. If you wait long enough, the problem won’t be cavities, it will be toothaches and potentially tooth loss.
Find the right dentist.
If you haven’t been to the dentist in years, and you are finding a new one because of your insurance, or your new home location, make sure you find the right dentist and be upfront with them. Let them know that it has been a while, let them know if you have anxiety about the visit, etc. A good dentist can’t make problems disappear, but they can be comforting and kind during your visit. The last thing you need is to feel a guilt trip or condescended to regarding your oral health. At the end of the day, dentists are here to promote good health and handle problems. Best case scenario, your brushing and flossing habits have prevented the growth of tooth decay and you can resume a normal twice a year schedule. Barring that, any issues can be handled and resolved before they grow and become worse.
The last thing you want is to go to a dentist that makes you feel bad for skipping or for having cavities. A caring dentist might remind you of the importance of regular visits, brushing and flossing, but in a kind way. Dentists are medical professionals, and their advice is given purely for your benefit. But you don’t want to finally return to the dentist only to have a bad experience or be treated poorly. So check reviews, ask friends and family where they go, and be honest with your dentist. Helping them understand how long it’s been, why it’s been that long, and what you are feeling, can help them understand the best way to discuss your oral health.
If you live in the Chicago area and you need to work with a dentist, please give us a call for more information. We work with patients of all ages at our dental offices in Chicago.