Thursday, May 23, 2024
HomeDental Fear, Phobia & AnxietyWhy Don't You Go to the Dentist?

Why Don’t You Go to the Dentist?

Recently, a woman with many cavities came to the dental school.  Her two upper front teeth were so decayed that we almost couldn’t put crowns on them.  In fact, if she had waited any longer, we would have just extracted the teeth.  When I asked her why she hadn’t come to the dentist until now, she said that she thought it would cost too much money.

Dental OfficeThe treatment plan that she chose involved multiple crowns, bridge work, and many fillings.  In total, her bill was nearly $5,000.  Her insurance will be paying about 80% of that and she’ll only end up paying about $1,000.  Furthermore, the dental school offers a payment plan that will help ease the financial burden of her portion.  She told me that if she had known her insurance would cover so much, she never would have waited so long to come to the dentist.

The cost of dental care is only one reason people don’t see their dentist as often as they should.  If it’s been more than six months since you last visited your dentist, ask yourself one simple question: Why don’t you go to the dentist?

In a recent survey that was published in the Journal of Dental Hygiene (Volume 84, Number 3, Summer 2010 , pp. 137-144), respondents were asked why they didn’t go to the dentist.  The survey offered some reasons explaining why people might not go to the dentist and each respondent indicated whether they agreed or disagreed with each statement.

Why People Avoid the Dentist

I thought the survey uncovered the most popular reasons people have for not visiting their dentist.  Here are the six most popular reasons:

1 – It costs too much – 50% agreed

2 – I cannot miss work – 34% agreed

3 – I cannot find a dentist – 30% agreed

4 – I am afraid – 27% agreed

5 – It is too far to travel – 20% agreed

6 – I do not want to go to the dentist -18% agreed

The anecdote at the beginning of this article centered around the financial concerns that prevent people from receiving dental care.  Another common reason is fear.   There are many people who are simply scared to go to the dentist.  Some are afraid that it will be painful or uncomfortable, while others are afraid the dentist will have bad news for them regarding the condition of their teeth.  This category would also probably include the people who aren’t really afraid of the dentist, they are just afraid of what the dentist will think of their teeth. Many people that come to my dental school are embarrassed to show us their teeth because they aren’t in perfect condition.

Why Don’t You Go to the Dentist?

So, what about you?  If you haven’t been visiting the dentist regularly, what’s your reason?  I’m curious to learn what other reasons people have for avoiding the dentist…please let us all know in the comments below!



  1. I think I fall under the categories of “afraid to get bad news” and “too busy/difficult to arrange childcare”. I will say that I faithfully had my cleanings every 6 months for my entire life and after I had my first son life got hectic – at least more than before. I had a year between cleanings and when I did finally go I had my first cavity…despite faithfully brushing. So now, I don’t miss my routine appointments 🙂

  2. I had a bad experience with my childhood dentist so now I tend to avoid it like the plague…I just remember the dentist being painful and gagging on trays when they took impressions (is that what it’s called?) and the worst is the dentist trying to make conversation with you when you obviously can’t answer since your mouth is crammed full of tools and spit straws. So it is not my favorite thing…but one of those things you gotta do.

    • That’s how I am Jill! I remember the dentist told me something wouldn’t hurt, and it hurt bad!

      I wish he’d have just told me the truth… Now, I only seem to go once every few years and am still looking for a nice, honest dentist!

  3. I came to this page from your Links page. After learning more, I can see how important the dentist is. I have been on “dental hiatuses” in the past because I haven’t had very many problems. I think sometimes we get so caught up in living life that we just don’t take the time to make sure our teeth are in “pristine” condition.

    After seeing that article on the link between oral health and body health, it has made me try to commit to never stay away from the dentist for more than a year in the future.

    • Thanks for sharing that with us, Cathy.

      I think that is a pretty common reason – people just don’t think that going to the dentist is that important.

      This happens a lot at my dental school. We get lots of people who come into the emergency department who only come to the dentist “when something is painful.”

      By the time the pain starts, sometimes it’s too late to even save the tooth and we end up pulling it.

  4. I avoid the dentist because most dentists I’ve had did poor-quality work and pushed for more work than was necessary. Dentist #1 put large fragile composite fillings in all my molars. A few years later, one of them broke and Dentist #2 replaced *all* of them with crowns. I only left him when he started pushing to have a remaining baby tooth replaced with an implant because I “needed more function” (what function? he couldn’t tell me) and wanted crowns put on three upper front teeth with just minor cavities. When a crown popped off two years later due to poor fit, Dentist #3 was shocked by the number of crowns I had and confirmed that additional ones were not needed. Unfortunately this was right before an out-of-state move so I couldn’t have him deal with the (still-minor) cavities. I’m afraid the next dentist I see will be like the first two, and that every new “fix” will just break in five years leaving me worse off than before.

    From now on I’m never getting anything more major than a small filling without a second opinion. But I’m not sure insurance even covers that, except in the form of getting checkups from different dentists at 6-month intervals, so obviously this introduces a lot of hassle and delay.

    Currently I have moderate pain in one molar (one with a visibly bad crown — I can feel the bottom of it with my tongue, and the metal isn’t all covered by ceramic), not caused by any discernible stimulus, but Dentist #3 didn’t see anything on the x-ray so I’m just going to try to cope with it until it gets intolerable or until something shows up on an x-ray. I suspect I may need a root canal, but given my experience that seems likely to fail as well, and I don’t even want to think about what happens once they try to fix that… gangrene of the jaw? Better to put it off as long as I can still eat!

    • Hi CD – That’s a shame that you haven’t had dentists that you can trust. I hope that bad dentists aren’t that common, but it is probably a good idea to get a second opinion and make sure that you’re only getting dental work that is actually needed.

      The metal collar of the crown usually shows up around the gum-line. Dentists do this because metal provides a better seal with the tooth right around the gums.

  5. Also some dentists are very hostile. When I had a crown lengthening done and bled a lot, the hygienist said I must be inflamed because I hadn’t been flossing. It doesn’t feel good to be blamed personally for bleeding when a piece of your flesh is cut off! In fact I’d been flossing daily for at least six months at the time, but this was so discouraging that I stopped entirely for a year or so.

    • Hi CD – That made me laugh! (not at you, but at the insensitivity of the hygienist’s comment) I can’t believe that they would blame you for the bleeding when they went in and removed some gums and bone. Everyone bleeds during crown lengthening.

      Sometimes dental professionals don’t think before speaking. I’m sorry that it discouraged you from flossing. Hopefully you’re back to flossing daily again. Thanks for your insights – hopefully you can find another dentist like dentist #3 to help you out in the future.

  6. The article you mention is “An oral health survey of the Lumbee tribe in southeastern North Carolina” (as far as I can tell) – do you think these stats are representative of people outside of this narrow group? I imagine the actual issues (cost etc.) will be the same if not similar, but wondering about the order of the issues (or perhaps some other ones) – do you know of any more ‘wider-focused’ studies that perhaps clarify these issues? Thanks!

  7. I go regularly for cleanings (I do 4 a year) but I put off needed dental work because I am not happy with dental options. I really feel this industry needs to address people’s concerns about 1. x-ray radiation 2. toxic ingredients in fillings (mercury) and sealants (BPA’s — making girls have early-onset puberty!) 3. The high cost 4. The way dental (and health) insurance companies find ways to weasel out of paying, make you submit appeals, etc. (“we don’t care if the crown is cracked, it hasn’t been five years yet, so we won’t pay a thing.) And I don’t mean address these concerns with platitudes (“Oh an x-ray is less radiation than an hour in the sun..” an hour’s worth in a flash, shooting through cell nuclei…) (“cancer and early puberty is a small price to pay compared to the benefits of preventing cavities in baby teeth”) And the high cost. (Can I melt down my wedding ring for gold for a crown? Can I turn in gold teeth from my grandfather, to recycle the gold into my next crown? Do they DO that?) My point is, they should give people options. Thinking outside the box. I put off these decisions because I have not found a dentist willing to seriously say, “I’ve researched, and this is the least toxic, best outcome procedure, materials and methods, in use, to date, anywhere in the world.

    • Hi Karen – Thanks for your comment. I’ll try to address some of your issues.
      1 – There are certain ways we can minimize the amount of x-rays we need by using other methods to detect decay. As far as seeing under the bone, an x-ray is all we have for now.
      2 – If you object to mercury fillings, we can place a tooth-colored filling. Parents have brought up bis-gma to me when it comes to sealants, so I ordered a sealant that doesn’t contain bis-gma.
      3 – As far as the cost, we try to keep our fees reasonable and competitive with the local area.
      4 – Dental insurance companies can be hard to work with at times.

      If you’d like, there is a market for metal, so you could trade those in and get the money then use that toward your dental work. I think it’s a matter of weighing what’s more important to YOU. For some people, it’s more important to not be exposed to a small amount of BPA than it is to end up with a cavity. I try to research a lot and use the safest materials for my patients – as time goes on I’m sure we will end up getting safer, better materials to use in the oral cavity.

      I hope that helps somewhat. Thanks for your comment! Have a great day, Karen.


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