How to encourage my BF to go to the dentist?
June 23, 2010 11:42 AM   Subscribe

How can I encourage my BF to go to the dentist without pissing him off? Anonymous because he's a lurker/aspiring MeFite.

My boyfriend is afraid to go to the dentist. He hasn't gone for years. I want him to go for his health and because his breath is kind of, well, rank even after he brushes. I've read other AskMe's with advice for how to make the dentist less anxiety provoking, but no specific info about coping when someone you care about just plain won't go.

He is employed and has insurance. He's freaked out even by "sedation dentistry" and he says the more I ask him to go the less he wants to. Do I just deal with this? It's not a deal breaker by any means... I'm just a go-to-the-dentist-every-6 mos type and I am worried the longer he waits to go the worse his dental work will be.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you could somehow convince him to floss his back teeth and scrape the back of his tongue, and then smell the byproducts, then tell him that's what his breath smells like. This could be presented as you innocently reading it in a magazine and trying it yourself, first?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:02 PM on June 23, 2010

he says the more I ask him to go the less he wants to.

You're probably going to have to drop this. Tell your boyfriend that you're willing to do anything that will help him to go (i.e., finding a dentist who is good with nervous patients, or finding a therapist who specializes in helping patients with phobias, going to the dentist office with him and holding his hand, etc.), and promise you won't mention it again, and then don't. You've reached the point of antagonizing your boyfriend and anything you say from here on in is going to be counterproductive.
posted by orange swan at 12:03 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

This was exactly me until a few years ago. I was mortified of going to the dentist (I have anxiety disorder) and I hadn't gone in 7 years. Of course I brushed twice daily etc, but just never went to the actual dentist out of fear. I began dating my girlfriend and after 3 years she finally started making comments about going to the dentist, and I knew I had to do something. I was positive that they were going to tell me that my teeth were ruined and that all kinds of stuff was wrong, etc. So finally I made the appointment with a "gentle" dentist, took some Xanax and went for it. I told the hygienist that I was terrified of the dentist, and that I just wanted a cleaning and nothing more. I also told them that I didn't want to know if anything was wrong with my teeth, just to clean them. That's it.

The cleaning was a bit rough (7 YEARS) and the dentist had to wear a face-shield while cleaning my teeth, but believe it or not the only thing wrong was 1 small cavity!! She told me that I wouldn't get that lucky again, and I've been going every 6 months since.

He needs to go, even if its just out of respect for you. He'll thank you later :)
posted by Hellafiles at 12:15 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

He's going to be pissed off because this is something he doesn't want to do.

If I were asking my husband to do something he didn't want to do, I'd say something like this: "I know you don't want to see a dentist, but it matters a lot to me. I'm worried about the basic hygiene issues I'm noticing related to your teeth and the long-term health consequences of not taking care of your teeth. I will do everything I can to find you a dentist who will be patient and ease your fears, I will find you a therapist to help you address these fears before you schedule a dentist appointment and I will be patient if that process takes a while, I will [do/cook/take you out for something you really love] after you see a dentist--but please, as a favor to me, because I am asking you and even if you don't think it's necessary, will you please see a dentist or at least make steps toward addressing this phobia?"

In other words, I think a good approach is two-fold--first, don't make it about nagging "you HAVE to!" but rather make it about this being something that matters to you ("will you do this for me?"); second, acknowledge that there may be a step between refusing to see a dentist and agreeing to see a dentist if this is truly a deeply felt anxiety.

For a long time, I felt very much like your boyfriend when it came to driving. This became a problem for my husband who, understandably, did not want to be my constant chauffeur when we moved to an area that didn't have great public transportation. I didn't change overnight (and in fact, I still pretty much hate driving), but my husband and I came to an agreement that was essentially: if he needs me to be able to drive myself around, we need to figure out ways for me to get comfortable with that--including ways he can help me, ways I can help myself, and outside help.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:24 PM on June 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

You could say you were messing around on metafilter and saw a guy writing about how he stayed away from the dentist for so long a tooth fell out of his mouth! LoL! What a l00ser.
posted by shothotbot at 12:27 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know what made me want to take care of my teeth and go to a dentist? I found one who never said a *word* about how crap my teeth were. He assumed that I, an adult human being around the age of 28, had probably heard about these things called tooth-brushes. Maybe your BF, like me, just doesn't want to hear that crap again, so maybe you can look for one who promises not to give him any crap about it.
posted by Etrigan at 12:38 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

It isn't about his mouth, it's about him being around long enough for you two to have a happy life together. My wife worked at a cardiac cath lab and that's how she worded it to me...

BTW - if he's ever had red hair anyplace, it's changed for us. For the one thing I had to have done recently they used so much Novocaine my nose went numb! First time I've never had to feel it. I see why people aren't fearful now.
posted by jwells at 12:43 PM on June 23, 2010

Does he have any guy friends you can get to talk to him about it? If 'the more you talk about it, the less he wants to go' then you either need to talk about it from a totally different angle, or try to get one of his friends to bring it up. I'm sure his dude friends notice the bad breath too, and it could even affect work relationships, etc. IANAD but that breath might mean early stage gum disease, and if he keeps putting it off, it won't be until he has a painful abscess or needs an extraction or root canal.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 12:46 PM on June 23, 2010

Ew, bad breath is a deal breaker. Does he know how bad his breath is? Stop kissing a nasty mouth.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 12:56 PM on June 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

First, if he is a lurker, he is probably reading this thread. Don't make up stories or tell him lies when he will recognize those lies from reading here. Both of you deserve honesty from each other.

Second, you can tell him that he is not alone, not some freak. A lot of us are somewhere between afraid and terrified of dental work. My fear stems from dentistry that I had when I was five years old. The fact that I am now 70 and very rational does not change that.

Third, I suggest that you discuss with him what his concerns are. Let him know that your concerns are his health and well-being. You might point out that people like me end up having heart surgery because failing to deal with dental problems leads to heart damage. That wasn't any more fun than going to the dentist. Listen to what his concerns are. If it is the drilling or the idea of pain afterward, suggest that he go to the dentist for a simple diagnostic check-up. Start with a physical inspection and, maybe, x-rays with an understanding that he doesn't get anything done. Just sitting in the dentist's chair without anything bad happening can be a real good start. If the check-up shows the need for work, he can discuss his concerns with the dentist and develop a plan for making it a comfortable experience.

Fourth and last, be supportive of his needs. You say this isn't a deal-breaker. Prove it by letting him decide what he wants to do and supporting it. Maybe now is not the time. If so, be ready to just let go of the issue for now. Wait six months and try again. Maybe a toothache will drive him to the dentist in the meantime. Who knows?
posted by Old Geezer at 1:00 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Appeal to his vanity. Let him know when his breath is bad. Let him feel the impact of his inaction. I think he would be ashamed more than pissed off.
posted by crunchland at 1:35 PM on June 23, 2010

I made a deal with my boyfriend: I'd lose 10 lbs (something that I wanted to do anyway for my self-esteem), he'd go to the dentist. It worked: I had motivation to lose the weight, and he had no choice but to honor his promise. One caveat: I actually took things into my hands and booked the appointment for him; I didn't really want to wait around for him to select a dentist and call.

He hadn't been to the dentist in many years as well (with the only difference that he has no obvious oral health issues). I'd been nagging him to go for about 4 years before then – clearly that strategy is worthless.
posted by halogen at 1:40 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a bunch of really bad dental experiences and so didn't go to the dentist for five years. Eventually about a third of one of my molars broke off while I was eating a fucking falafel of all things.

That got me back in the chair.

I made a deal with my wife that I would keep going back until all of my cavities were filled and the necessary root canals were done (8 visits over four months!). Then, once there were no immediate problems, I wouldn't have to go back for a year. But unless I'd had that tooth-breaking wake-up call, I probably still wouldn't have gone.

My wife never made comments about my bad breath, if indeed my breath was bad, but that might have made me go sooner. On the other hand, it might have just made me feel like she was trying to manipulate me into going to the dentist. Hard to say, and it all would have depended on how she'd framed it.

The bad news is that, after all this time, his eventual dental experience is probably going to be orders of magnitudes worse than your own conception of an unpleasant dentist visit. So you can't even truthfully tell him that "it won't be that bad." Root canals are horrible.

Good luck.
posted by 256 at 1:51 PM on June 23, 2010

I was much like your boyfriend. I stayed away from the dentist for nearly a decade untli I cracked a molar on some goddamned Chipotle chips.

I was unsure of being able to pay for it, I was ashamed of letting my teeth get this bad, and I was scared about being in the chair, out of control of the situation and in pain. But my wife told me she wanted me to be in good health when we were old, and that tooth decay leads to heart damage, and that she was worried about me. That was enough for me to take a deep breath and head over to the dentist.

Pain? Sedation dentistry using nitrous makes you not care about pain, and ibuprofen after a procedure is usually enough.

Control? Sedation dentistry is great—instead of being unconscious in the chair, I'm actually pain-free and lucid enough to follow orders and tell the dentist what's going on. Nitrous makes me pain-free and euphoric without seriously compromising my judgement. I'm actually in more control.

Shame? "Sometimes we get meth mouth in here," the dentist said. "Believe me, I've seen much, much worse. Floss more and cut down on the sodas and you'll be just fine."

Cost? Yeah, spendy. On an annual basis for the last ten years, I could have bought a computer or two. This turns out to be a great motivator for keeping costs down in the future (like when I want to buy a house or something). I just had a follow-up appointment done today, and the dentist praised my newfound sense of dental discipline. I get more kisses now, I don't cringe when I eat hot or cold foods, and feel great!
posted by infinitewindow at 1:56 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I got over my dentist fears after finding not only the best dentist in the world, but possibly the cutest as well. So, I mean, that's not for nothing. It counted for me. :)

Man, and sedation dentistry? Man, I've had that one time for some periodontal surgery and if I could just load up on that before I headed to work in the morning then I would have the perfect job since I'd never be able to remember anything about work.
posted by smallerdemon at 2:22 PM on June 23, 2010

and he says the more I ask him to go the less he wants to. Do I just deal with this?

Pretty much. This is like nagging someone to stop smoking or lose weight--it doesn't work, it angers the person, and if anything it makes them less likely to do whatever it is you're asking. If your boyfriend is anything like me, he will feel like you are trying to control him and treating him like a child. I would find you very manipulative, and if you brought the subject up more than once, I would probably dump you.

Sorry. I know that sounds harsh.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:23 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Offer him lots and lots of breath mints until he takes the hint. Every time you climb into the car. Every time you climb into bed. Every time he wants to kiss you. Breath mint.
posted by crunchland at 2:24 PM on June 23, 2010

If he's in Houston I have a nice gentle dentist. Sent a friend to her who hadn't gone in 10 years. A tooth fell out when he was chewing gum. He was horrified. But was able to tollerate a few multiple visits to my nice dentist. Memail if you want her info.
posted by dog food sugar at 2:49 PM on June 23, 2010

Well, alternatively, if he's willing to start an unconventional diet he may not need to go to the dentist.

Most of our dental problems are caused by the food we eat. In the past, humans only had basic options like fruit, vegetables, and meat. We had bacteria in our mouths that ate the extra sugar left behind by these foods and produced acid as a byproduct, but it wasn't a big deal because there wasn't a lot of extra sugar in these foods to start with.

Now, however, so much of our food is saturated with extra sugars that the bacteria in our mouths go crazy, producing lots of extra acid that eats away the enamel of our teeth and causes cavities. Their other... byproducts, also smell bad, causing bad breath.

If a person is dedicated and only eats fresh, basic foods, and nothing that contains refined ingredients like flour or extra sugar, there really shouldn't be a need to go to the dentist (notwithstanding disease/injury).
posted by Menthol at 2:50 PM on June 23, 2010

I'm so glad you asked this question as I'm having exactly the same problem with my BF. I can tell you that refusing to kiss with tongues until he goes to the dentist doesn't work (have been trying that one for several months); neither has trying to apply a bit of homebrew CBT theory to his dentist fear. He has started to use mouthwash a lot, so he knows there is a problem but he just can't get over the fear to get to the dentist.

If a person is dedicated and only eats fresh, basic foods, and nothing that contains refined ingredients like flour or extra sugar, there really shouldn't be a need to go to the dentist

Sorry, but the archaeological evidence doesn't bear this out. Yes, the prevalence of dental disease is strongly correlated with diet, as it gets richer we get more cavities - but this isn't the same as saying that there will be no problems with a palaeo diet.
posted by Coobeastie at 4:27 PM on June 23, 2010

Try bribery. I didn't go to the dentist for 10 years and I finally went because my girlfriend bribed me. Guys are never really above prizes and positive reinforcement. If you think it might work for an 8 year old, it might work for a grown man. So maybe if you straight up tell him you'll buy him something if he goes that will be enough to induce him to go. Maybe it's a new video game. Or maybe it's some beer. Or a gun.

For me though it wasn't something you could buy at the store. It was oral sex. I don't know what your bf is into though. You'd know more than me.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 5:09 PM on June 23, 2010

The bad news is that, after all this time, his eventual dental experience is probably going to be orders of magnitudes worse than your own conception of an unpleasant dentist visit. So you can't even truthfully tell him that "it won't be that bad." Root canals are horrible.

Oh, don't get the guy more scared.

I had a root canal about a month and a half ago. I was so numb that I couldn't feel my eye. This was after months of dental work. I had some residual pain from fillings, but the most painful part was the hole in my wallet--not my teeth.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:41 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

After his first abscess, he'll go.
posted by crunchland at 6:47 PM on June 23, 2010

It's really very simple. If a cavity is caught early it requires less intervention than one caught later. Does he want to let his irrational fear win over his good judgement? Is he willing to let a ten-minute procedure to turn into a root canal that may or may not take? Is he cool with the prospect of needing dentures at a ridiculously young age, when everyone he meets will notice that first about him and wonder what the deal is?

Some dentists will use nitrous for routine cleanings. Tell him what a great trip nitrous is, especially with music.
posted by Pamelayne at 9:11 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Heck, I just had a root canal a week ago and outside of some residual pain the next day in the back of my mouth where they shot the novacaine, it was fine. Yes, nitrous oxide is what even gets me in the chair to begin with.

Lots of good suggestions - I find that even though I'm spazzy and anxious when I get there, it's never as bad as it is in my mind. And - nitrous! A bomb could go off by my head and I'd be all "cool, man. What's that noise?"

Good luck to you and your boyfriend.
posted by Mysticalchick at 6:17 AM on June 24, 2010

I had to tell mine that his teeth and gums looked bad (gray and puffy) and I stopped kissing him when his breath smelled.

If it got to the point where his breath smelled bad even right after brushing - that should totally be a deal breaker. Poor hygiene is whack and if a person won't do something about it when it's brought to their attention, they have mental issues. I do have a thing with teeth though. For somereason, if a person can't keep their mouth clean it totally skeeves me out to imagine what kind of crust is in their butt or ears or any other less-attended to parts.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:38 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks for your help, Metafilter! All great ideas... And today the BF said, of his own accord and with no mention from me of any internet advice, that he was looking at what his insurance will cover. I recently found out I have two cavities, so maybe this freaked him out enough to look into dental work. Sedation dentistry seems to be the way to go for him.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:50 AM on June 24, 2010

Yes, the prevalence of dental disease is strongly correlated with diet, as it gets richer we get more cavities - but this isn't the same as saying that there will be no problems with a palaeo diet.

Yes, that's what I meant when I said "(notwithstanding disease/injury)," which you left out when you quoted me.
posted by Menthol at 8:44 PM on June 24, 2010

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