The vulnerability experienced in the dentist's chair can trigger memories of sexual abuse, says endodontist Eva Wolf in her new study. She interviewed 13 people who had similar traumatic experiences and found that most of them are afraid of dentists, avoid visits, do not show up for appointments or stop treatment.
“It is obvious that being in the dentist's chair is reminiscent of previously experienced violence. The same feelings of defenselessness and powerlessness that arise in such situations. By recognising these reactions, dental care can help uncover abuse”, says Wolf, Associate Professor of Endodontics at the University of Malmö.
“Healthcare providers need to be careful and dare to ask questions about exposure to violence, even if it may seem difficult. Dentists can then refer the patient to a psychologist for qualified help.” she says.
According to Wolf, the association with violence can lead to the fact that patients will defend themselves from the experience, mentally disappear and “settle for anything” during treatment, while outwardly they will appear calm.
“This is a very unpleasant situation, and we dentists need to be more aware of the patient's psychological experience.” she adds.
Her research raised questions about how violence affected oral health, mental health, and life in general and the importance of dental care.
“The feeling of powerlessness makes the need to control enormously. The patient needs to know how the procedure is performed, what happens in the oral cavity at this time, what discomfort he or she may experience, and how long the procedure takes. Each situation is individual, the patient must be involved in the process. They don't want to relive those feelings.” says Wolf.
The study was conducted in collaboration with Gisela Priebe, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, Lund University, and Erin McCarthy, Professor of Philosophy at St Lawrence University, USA.
“You must be able to take a person's story professionally and remain calm. For this, there should be clear schedules. It is very important that the patient dares to talk about this tragic incident, ”says Priebe.