My fear of dentists is so great that I went to my veterinarian for a follow up check up.
This past week I was in the dentist’s chair and as usual I didn’t recognise the person sitting there.
Between cries of pain, wiping my sweaty palms on my shaking legs, and struggling to keep my adrenaline-fueled, anxiety-pumping heart from jumping out of my chest I had an epiphany: my fear of the dentist is no different than the phobia those with a fear of flying or a fear of heights experience. Yes, it’s that bad.
In fact, I’ve always said the definition of an adult is thus: You know you’re an adult when you have to be responsible for making your own dentist appointment, be brave enough to show up and be accountable to pay for the torture afterwards.
I don’t recognise myself when I’m in the dentist chair. Me, the guy who thrills to the thought of scaling heights, jumping off bridges, challenging myself, facing fear – he’s not the guy in the chair. Instead I’m a bundle of trembling fear, working hard (and often unsuccessfully) to regulate my rapid breathing, trying hard to calm my runaway heart,
In the past I’ve had morally-supportive friends accompany me to dentist if only to translate what he’s saying. Fear stops me from hearing properly. I see lips moving, I hear words spoken, but nothing registers through the haze of terror.
This past week I boldly went to the dentist on my own regarding a troubling tooth at the back of my mouth. (I’m not feeling that warm & fuzzy towards my last dentist with whom I invested a sizeable amount time, bravery and money only to find that his work is starting to chip away – leaving me feeling like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.)
This new dentist was nice enough; full of warm smiles, telling me that my fear is not unusual. I can’t do enough to apologise and we haven’t even started the exam. (Apologising is a reoccurring theme throughout my time in the chair.)
My tooth is not in a good state. There’s talk of extracting it, there’s talk of saving it. An X-ray is preformed (minus the lead-lined vest I might add) and it’s decided that the tooth is healthy enough to save and can be rebuilt with a root-canal. The anxiety increases but I steel myself for what needs to be done.
But there’s a problem, a perennial problem, a problem that I think may be the origin of my deep-seated dental fear: my mouth never freezes properly. Metabolism plays a part, my blood coursing through my body at a sprinter’s speed probably doesn’t help, nor does the fact that every dentist I’ve told this to NEVER believes me despite my insistence. (This dusts off a memory of an early childhood dentist who, in a time when adults were unquestionably right, decided that I had had enough freezing and despite my protests to the contrary, said I didn’t need anymore and proceeded to work on my mouth.)
This week’s dental adventure was no different. Despite a dentist with a much warmer dental bedside manner, I counted no less than 9 – that’s 9 (repeated for additional affect) – injections to get my mouth to freeze beyond pain. Each one of the nine needles coming AFTER I had leapt off the chair in pain. Each contorted leap followed by the perplexed expression on the dentist’s face and the bloomin’ bloody obvious understatement … “Hmm, I guess you still haven’t frozen yet.”
It’s the same with every dentist.
Give me gas. I’d love gas but for two reasons, 1. I’ve never found a dentist who administers it, and 2. When I had my wisdom teeth removed and was singing strains of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine on the way home (much to my mum’s amusement) I ended up having a bad reaction to the anaesthesia and threw up violently, ripping out all the stitches. Yet another horror story: I had to return to the surgeon with needles stuck straight into the open wounds to stem the bleeding. Phobia folks, phobia!
Back to present day, and I’m being brave. I’m doing my best to imagine anything and everything to help me through the process of having each root of my back tooth painfully excavated by a miniature file and intrusive fingers.
The work is done. The root canal complete. But wait there’s more …
It’s at this point that the dentist decides that the tooth cannot be saved and has to be pulled!!! (Extra exclamation marks for added affect.)
He calls in another dentist to perform the extraction while I ask to go to the bathroom for work fear of wetting my pants. I’ve been close to two hours in the dentist chair and I’m standing it in the bathroom thinking that it would all be so much easier if I just left now …
A deep breath and I steel myself for a return to the chair to wrestle with this new dentist, imagining those Western days where it was a shot of whisky before the pulling began. This felt just as rudimentary, except rather than having just one tooth I now had three roots that needed to be ‘popped’. More freezing.
Suddenly it all becomes too much. “Stop!” I yell through a partially frozen, muffled mouth full of fingers. (You gotta give dentists credit for understanding muffled mouth talk. Do you think a course requirement/a class they take?) “What’s happening?” I only had one more to go. “Ok, let’s get it done.” I prepared myself for the tug-o-war.
Then it was over.
I barely noticed the stitches going in, my eyes embarrassingly filling fast with tears of relief. Then the numbness took hold. My adrenaline all used up, I became ultra mellow. Perhaps it was a mild state of shock. The pain killer sealed the deal, leaving me loopy and tripping through the streets like a drunk.
A week later the fear has returned. Who am I kidding? It never really went away. Rather than return to the dentist and all anxiety I knew that would generate, I went to my vet to get my stitch removed. I trust him.
I may not recognise the guy sitting in the dentist’s chair, but I recognise the guy who’s brave enough to get there and strong enough to stay. Guess I’m an adult.
Thank goodness for you that it is over, what an ordeal! And the moral of the story is……………….
There are worse things than going to the dentist Michael. Can’t think of what they are right now…but there are worse things.
Just reading that made me anxious; I really hate visiting the dentist as well. I’d rather bungee from a helicopter than have a tooth out.
Hear hear Richard! I couldn’t agree more! When are we jumping?
What on earth is “Chuck Craigle” wasting his time posting such an insensitive, ignorant, insulting note?!
Michael, your post was well-written and boy do I relate to you! And I know a lot of people can empathize with your terrible, traumatic ordeal. Thank you for sharing your experience. The more I hear/read from people like you, the less alone I feel.