It’s not a fear, more like a slight terror fueled by judgment and pain. Let me break that down a little more.
Cavities hurt and I dislike pain so I naturally associate the pain with the person who works in the mouth. I know it is like blaming the mechanic for my car breaking down, but I do it.
The judgment? Well, sometimes I feel like dentists harshly evaluate me and how I am overseeing the management of my own mouth. Has anyone else noticed this? When they are telling you what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong, doesn’t a part of you feel like you are being lectured? Now, I can’t point to a specific moment when a finger was wagged in my direction or eyes were rolled, but I sense it. I know it is there. The hidden eye roll is always there.
Because of all of this, I had been very relaxed on my visits over much of my adult life. And sadly, over the last five years this has come back to bite me in the ass… or mouth… or something. I’m just trying to say I hate my teeth right now and there is biting and occasional pain involved with it. The biting, I mean. Argh!
I think the first time I had a “negative” moment with a dentist was when I got my wisdom teeth pulled as a teenager.
They decided to do all four at the same time and the surgeon who did it had a striking resemblance to Dr. Clayton Forrester from Mystery Science Theater 3000. For those that don’t know the reference he was the mad scientist who would force a space captive and his two sarcastic (and brilliant) robots to watch a bad movie. (God, I miss that show!) Well, the dental surgeon looked just like that very evil dude and I tried to explain that when he was putting me under the gas. “Hey, you look just like… have you ever seen that show Mystery… I’m trying to…” And I was out.
When I woke up later I was curled up into a ball on a couch in a gray room outside the waiting room. My parents said I did fine, but I felt unlike myself and physically like I had just been in a fight with the customary blood and puffed-up face. I spent the rest of the day laying in one of the rooms of our house watching the same movie over and over again.
I have no memory of which move it was, I just know looking back that I thought it was freaking awesome. Maybe the best ever!
I lost my first tooth about three years ago. It began as a simple ache… that grew and grew. And I, being a typical guy, didn’t bother to do anything about it until it was too, too late. Finally, it got to such a point that I took a day off work to go to an urgent dental office in my area.
As I sat in the busy waiting room, I was surrounded by strangers and there was an awkward silence around all of us (as the multiple TVs blared the Game Show Network overhead at us). We were all in the same boat in that waiting room of shame, sharing in the same purgatory, and we were all paying the price. We shared that in common. Even the defeat sketched on each of our faces was the same.
Hearing that I would lose the tooth felt like a death. A part of me was going away… forever. Okay, that is dramatic, I get it, but it all felt so bloody traumatic. And on the night before the appointment I didn’t get any sleep. I was going a little crazy over it, almost to the point that I was sharing memories with my tooth.
“Hey, do you remember that sandwich we ate together in Capri? That was a great sandwich.”
Going to the dentist that next day felt to me almost like one of the bravest things I had ever done. My wife offered to take me, but I said no. I was going to do this by myself. This was between just me and my tooth. Yes, I was a solder going to war as I walked into that waiting room, and I left like a war-weary veteran, holding an ice packet against my battle scar.
I remember then going home and just laying on my bed with the ice packet wondering how the hell I got to this point. I am a grown adult. I am educated with a lot of lifetime experience. And it’s not like I live off bad food; maybe one to too many cans of soda but we all have our vices. And yet there I was getting emotional over a tooth and comparing my experience to that of a veteran!?!
Yes, dentistry made me pitiful.
I have since lost two more teeth because of weak gums so I am told. I don’t look like a character from the film Deliverance or anything, but I can feel the emptiness there. My tongue seems to run along those spaces every few hours or so; reminding me emotionally of something I can’t put my finger on. Is it the past? Or mistakes? Or want? Something that is a bit of each, probably.
The big problem now I think is that my experience with my teeth has started to impact my son. He is six-years old, and while I take him to the dentist regularly for checkups he has yet to feel comfortable about opening his mouth for too long. Oh, he allows x-rays and the quick looks, but it can get emotional when the dentist wants to do more exploring. A request for open wide, can be followed by a clamped shut mouth and a fast shake of the head.
After the last visit, the dentist (yes, I have a dentist now) pulled me aside and said that this situation needs to change. An obvious point, but it needed to be said.
My son and I had a heart-to-heart that night and he seemed to be scared that they were going to take his teeth like they took mine. So my son had to learn that a dentist is there to help, and I guiltily learned again that my kids watch and learn from everything I do around them. Argh!
The last time I went into the dentist it was to get some caps. This was part of my resolution with myself last year that I was going to take on my teeth and win. Everything that could be capped would be capped, everything that could be fixed would be. Heck, I might even get an implant to fill in the spaces.
The dental assistant began that day by saying on my chart that I requested nitrous oxide.
That actually was wrong.
During my last tooth extraction, I had a bad experience with nitrous oxide. It made my heart race and I felt like I was in panic mode the entire time it was going on. I could have run a marathon or screamed like a victim in a horror movie during that entire visit. If given the chance, I probably would have done both at the same time.
I had since learned that my reaction was because of the combination of the nitrous oxide with the pain-killer that they used. Now how my dentist confused my conversation about a bad experience with wanting it, I can’t say. But at that moment when the assistant brought it up, I said sure. Why not?
She said that also on the chart that I am nervous about visits (yes) so she will try to make me feel very comfortable (okay).
Before the dentist had even entered the room, I was floating on a cloud… a pink cloud with rainbows overhead and a perfect clear blue sky.
I was listening to The Beatles on shuffle (comfort music) and suddenly all of John’s songs about LSD made sense. Lucy in the Sky? I can see her right there! I could have waved to her. I was that free.
The original plan of the dentist was to do two caps, but seeing how well I was doing under the gas, he asked if I wanted to take care of the other one I had. I said sure… I would have agreed to anything at that moment.
I have a very active mind.
I usually have two to three thoughts going on at the same time. For example, I may be writing an article at one moment, while also working out a bit in a book at the same time (a notepad sitting next to the keyboard). When I watch a movie or show, I am enjoying it and also analyzing the writing. And since becoming a parent, my children have taken over much of my thoughts and I am almost always thinking of what I can do to help them, what they need, and their future like a running commentary. It doesn’t stop. Plans are always in the works.
My mental state can get so busy that in the evening I have almost a ritual to even fall asleep. I listen to audiobooks (after a few chapters in one of the three to four books I am always reading at the same time) until my mind is so at peace that with a simple click of the pause button on my iPod, I am asleep. I have even been known to fall asleep with my headphones still in my ears.
But at that moment, under the nitrous oxide, my mind was a blank.
A complete blank.
I had no thoughts running away from me. My internal clock had been completely turned off. No plans were being made. And I was experiencing something very new for me.
A beautiful, serene mental quiet that I had never known before. And right at that moment, I loved all dentists… everywhere.
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