I have a very strong dislike for dentists. Maybe as people outside of their profession they are quite nice, but since I only know of dentists as they appear inside their office, my dislike for them is intense. Maybe you wonder why that dislike is so strong or even why I am writing about a subject I dislike so much.
To answer the first question, I must travel back to a time nearly 40 years ago. I was born with a sweet tooth and what I craved most were chocolate candy and bubble gum–sugary, sweet bubble gum. (None of that sugar free stuff for me!) My father shared my love for chocolate. Most of the time there was a box of candy on top of the mantle. I was really good at lifting the lid and replacing it without making a sound–that way, my mom didn’t hear me take the candy. Unfortunately, my teeth were not the strongest even back then. I brushed faithfully yet still had cavities. My brother, who hated brushing his teeth and often didn’t, would never have cavities. I remember crying to my parents how unfair the whole situation was. But I digress. My dad did not have a high opinion of doctors in general–of any field. I don’t remember my first trip to a dentist, but I know that I never had one that didn’t involve pain.
One visit, in particular, stands out to me. I was probably 7 years old. I had a wickedly bad toothache. My parents had put a blanket and a pillow on the floor so I could lay on it to try to stop the throbbing. Nothing worked. My mom took me to a dentist. I don’t even remember his name. I know his office was not on the island where we lived. This dentist did not believe that numbing anything in my mouth was necessary. As I sit here and type this, I feel sick to my stomach. The sounds of the drill, the scraping of his sharp tool, the nerves of my tooth being hit repeatedly–it was too much. I remember screaming. He told me to stop and be brave. My mom was in the waiting room. It was several years later that she said how hard it was for her to sit out there and hear my screams. At the end of that visit, the dentist told my mom that one of my teeth was bad enough that I would need a root canal. My mom refused. It was a back tooth so he said he could extract it but that it wasn’t a baby tooth so no tooth would grow there. She stood firmly on the fact that she was not going to allow a root canal. She scheduled the appointment for the extraction. For that appointment, I got a shot of numbing novocaine. It wasn’t enough, though, as I again screamed in pain as he pulled a back molar from my mouth. I can still taste the blood from that if I think about it. A few weeks later, a new tooth grew there. My mom decided that maybe this dentist didn’t know what he was doing. For me, though, the damage had already been done. The sound of a drill would send shivers down my spine. The smell of a dentist’s office would make me throw up. The fear was unbelievable.
And it never went away.
Once I became an adult, I had control over my dental health. My decision was to just not go. I couldn’t handle the sounds and smells of the office. When our kids were born, they went for initial visits but I did not follow through with dental care for them. At the time, that was mostly because we did not have dental insurance and couldn’t afford groceries let alone a dentist visit.
In 2003, I found myself with a major toothache. I could ignore them for quite a while. My pain tolerance is high anyway. This one, though, got so bad that I asked my husband to take me to urgent care on a Sunday. Doctors don’t really know what to do with tooth problems. He gave me pain pills and told me to call a dentist the next day. We had just moved so I found one that our insurance covered and went. The tooth was pretty much beyond saving. He recommended just taking it out. He numbed me very well and even gave me the laughing gas to take the edge off. I can’t say I enjoyed the experience, but as far as dentists go, I was pleased with myself. I didn’t pass out or scream.
Still, though, that fear was always there. When our oldest son had a toothache and needed his wisdom teeth pulled, I had my husband go with him. I couldn’t handle it.
I thought I was done with dentists. My dental health was decent and there were no issues.
Until last year, that is. A dull ache in a back tooth one night startled me. It went away.
Then it came back.
Then it went away.
Three weeks ago it came back. This time, it didn’t go away. In fact, it got worse. I couldn’t chew on that side. If cold water got over there, I would be in intense pain. I knew I had to do something.
Since I knew the previous visit had gone as well as one could expect it to go, I called the same office. They got me in the next day. Once again, the choice was extraction or a root canal. He went through pros and cons of both and was very patient as I sat in the chair, tears streaming down my face at the thought of having anything done at all.
My husband recommended the root canal. He said saving the tooth is always better. So I agreed.
I figure the dentist and his assistant probably think I am crazy.
He did get most of the work done. I am so thankful for laughing gas and the extra numbing medication he used. I still had flashbacks to those childhood visits.
The problem, though, is he wasn’t able to complete the entire thing in one visit. That means I have to go back.
Just the thought of it sends fear and panic and waves of nausea through my entire body.