I’m reading an interesting book “Nature via Nuture” by Matt Ridley that deals with the influence that genes have on our behaviour and how our behaviour modifies our genes. It’s been eye opening to realise that although our genes might give us some obvious, immutable characteristics like blue eyes or long legs most of our genes can be switched off or on and changed by what we do.
He talked about an interesting experiment carried out in 1980 by a scientist in Wisconsin called Susan Mineka. It has long been known that monkeys raised in captivity were not scared of snakes while all wild monkeys seemed to have a huge fear of them. She proved that they could easily be taught to fear snakes by seeing another monkey react fearfully to a snake. Even watching a video of this was enough to make a monkey fear snakes (or rubber snakes as were mostly used in the experiments) from then on.
Susan wondered if it would be possible to teach a monkey to fear other objects in the same way. By splicing and editing videos she attempted to make the monkeys fearful of a most innocuous object- a flower.
But she failed woefully. No matter how many different ways she tried she was not able to make the monkeys fear flowers or other innocuous objects.
From this experiment came the concept of innate learning.
Monkeys, and humans, are easily made to be fearful of snakes, spiders, the dark, confined spaces, heights, deep water and thunder. Often this fear is passed down through vicarious experience of seeing another person fearful of these while a child.
Most of these were useful characteristics in the Stone Age but only inhibit our lives in the modern world.
It got me thinking that somehow a fear of the dentist is that sort of innate fear that humans have.
In fact more than half the human population struggles with some sort of anxiety before coming to the dentist. For some this is a phobia that prevents them ever going to a dentist in their lifetime, no matter what suffering they have to endure to avoid us.
I see two or three people most days that tell me the thought of coming has kept them up at night or in some way ruined their day. Even if they’re only coming for a check-up!
The good news is that innate fears can be counteracted.
A child who sees other fearlessly holding snakes or spiders is likely to be able to do so themselves if this is their first experience of the animals.
This is why it is absolutely vital that your child has a positive first experience at the dentist and that this continues throughout their childhood. A painful experience may well forever mar their lives. Preventing them from getting the are and protection that we try and offer people to prevent them getting dental problems.
If you are fearful of coming to the dentist try not to talk negatively about the dentist in front of your children. Make sure you bring them from when their first teeth erupt. Perhaps consider sending them with someone in your family or a friend who has no fear about coming to the dentist. (Yes! There are people like this out there!)
Please make sure that you have met the first dentist that they see before the appointment and are confident that they will offer a positive experience.
I totally understand the temptation to take them to the nearest free, NHS dentist but if you are not sure of their abilities to deal with children in a calm, positive, unrushed way then consider the harm it may do.
We offer childrens payment plans for £5.85 per month that covers all the essential treatment they will need and as a dad I can assure you we will look after your kids.