Are You Afraid of the Dentist?

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Story Updated: Dec 26, 2012

My friend Victoria had nagging tooth pain for weeks, before she tweeted, "Anybody know a dentist who sedates you?" Victoria once told me that her dental fears actually started in her teens when she had a bad experience getting out her wisdom teeth.

As fate would have it, I ran across her tweet the same day I saw this study about what prevents people from seeing a dentist. Apparently, Victoria is not alone: One in 10 adults are afraid to see the tooth doc too.

So, to help her, I talked to Dr. Arthur Weiner, a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry and author of The Fearful Dental Patient: A Guide to Understanding and Managing. "Is sedation a good solution for someone who is scared of a procedure?" I asked.

"Not at all!" responded Weiner. Apparently, I hit a nerve. Although many dentists offer sedation -- and Weiner even did earlier in his career -- he feels it doesn't fix the problem. "When you sedate people, they are still going to avoid going to the dentist the next time they need treatment or preventive care." What's more, sedation isn't safe for many older patients or those who are taking certain medications, explains Weiner.

"So what's a better approach?" I asked.

"Finding a dentist who can ease your fears by answering all your questions," answered Weiner. "Think about why you don't want to see a dentist -- what's the root of your fear -- and then make a list of things to ask about. I've had patients who have refused a root canal, for instance, but then after I took 10 minutes to explain what was going to happen, they went ahead. And it's never been as bad as they thought it would be," adds Weiner.

Of course, not all dentists will be that patient. So the trick is to shop around for one who is before it becomes an emergency. "Call three or four dental offices, tell them about your situation, and see how they respond," advises Weiner. "From there, you should have a good idea of who you want to make an appointment with."

And for people like my friend Victoria, who have waited too long and need to be out of pain pronto, Weiner recommends using relaxation and visualization techniques like these when they're in the dentist's chair. According to research, hypnosis is also effective at calming dental fears (read more about it here).

When I called Victoria to find out how she fared with her toothache, she said, "I needed a cavity filled. The dentist put me under. I was groggy for the rest of the day -- and I'm glad I don't need to go back there again."

"You need to find someone who can make you feel comfortable without sedation for your checkups," I told her. Then I emailed her the number of my dentist -- a man who lets me change the TV channel in the room to whatever goofy distraction I want during my appointment. "Let me think about it," she said. Well, at least that's a start.

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Welcome to New York State Veterans' Home at Oxford
The New York State Veterans' Home at Oxford is a 242 bed facility located in Chenango County about thirty miles north of Binghamton NY. Situated on a sixty acre site, the Home has spectacular scenic views of rural countryland. We provide state of the art medical, nursing, psychosocial, and rehabilitative services to our residents. We also have several academic affiliations including the Upstate Medical Center College of Medicine/Clinical Campus at Binghamton.

About Us
The New York State Veterans' Home at Oxford is a long term care skilled nursing facility. We are located in Oxford NY, and we serve the Central New York Region. We provide care for veterans and their dependents. Our current building has 242 beds in seven different units, including our rehabilitation unit and our dementia unit. Our facility is clean and pleasant, and our staff is friendly and professional. We welcome you to a guided tour upon request!

Dr. Dzwonczyk – Medical Director

Dr. Dzwonczyk Receives Certification in Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

It is with great pleasure that we announce that Philip J. Dzwonczyk, MD has been certified in Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Dr. Dzwonczyk joins more than nineteen hundred fellow physicians to have achieved such certification.

Hospice and palliative medicine is the medical discipline of the broad therapeutic model known as hospice and palliative care. The discipline and model of care are devoted to achieving the best possible quality of life for the patient and family throughout the course of a life-threatening illness through the relief of suffering and the control of symptoms. Hospice and palliative medicine helps the patient and family face the prospect of death assured that comfort will be a priority, values and decisions will be respected, spiritual and psychosocial needs will be addressed, practical support will be available and opportunities will exist for growth and development. Hospice in the United States is an organized program that provides palliative care for terminally ill patients and supportive services to patients, their families, and significant others.

Dr. Dzwonczyk is the medical director of the New York State Veterans Home in Oxford. He recently completed the Harvard Medical School Program in Palliative Care Education and Practice and has worked for many years as an internist and geriatrician practicing in central New York. Dr. Dzwonczyk received his undergraduate degree from the University of Scranton and his doctor of medicine degree from Jefferson Medical College. He trained in internal medicine and psychiatry at the Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and holds specialty certificates in Internal Medicine and Geriatric Medicine. He has achieved Certified Medical Director status from the American Medical Directors Association and is a Fellow of both the American College of Physicians and the American Geriatrics Society. Dr. Dzwonczyk has directed the medical care of patients at the New York State Veterans Home since 1993 and has been active as a medical educator. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Upstate Medical University and is active as a member of the faculty of the Geriatric Medicine Clerkship of the Clinical Campus in Binghamton. In addition to his interest in palliative care, Dr. Dzwonczyk has an interest in the evaluation and management of cognitive and mood disorders of the elderly.

The American Board of Hospice and Palliative Medicine was formed in 1995 to establish and measure the level of knowledge, attitudes and skills required for certification of physicians practicing hospice and palliative medicine. Eligibility requirements for certification are significant. In order to be eligible to sit for the certifying examination, applicants must have received prior major specialty certification, practiced at least two years following residency, worked as a member of an interdisciplinary team for at least two years and have directly participated in the active care of at least fifty terminally ill patients in the preceding three years. Alternatively, applicants must have completed specialty fellowship training in palliative medicine. The fellowship training program must be at least one year in length and must meet the established voluntary standards for such a program.

ABHPM conducts its Certification Examination in Hospice and Palliative Medicine annually at multiple sites through the United States. Currently, 1908 physicians have been certified by virtue of meeting certification requirements, including successful completion of this examination. A listing of currently certified physicians may be viewed on the Boards website at www.ABHPM.org.

Information on the American Board of Hospice and Palliative Medicine may be obtained from the website at www.ABHPM.org or by call (301) 439-8001.

Welcome to New York State Veterans' Home at Oxford