I’ve never had a particularly bad experience at the dentist. In fact, I would say that most of my dentists over the years have been extremely patient and accommodating. My parents always made oral hygiene a priority. Visiting the dentist was almost as routine as celebrating holidays. Cavities were unheard of, and I only wore braces on the lower set of teeth for about a year. Overall, it should have been a fairly easy experience. And yet, I never felt at ease opening my mouth to someone holding an extremely sharp and pointy tool. The harsh sound of enamel being scraped makes my toes curl and the shock of metal touching my gums is electrifying. When I was 28, I needed to have all four of my wisdom teeth pulled. I was so petrified that I made the doctor prescribe a mild sedative beforehand, and had my best friend drive me to the appointment.
In spite of my incredible fear of the dentist, I still make myself go, even years after I’m old enough to make my own decisions. The fear of getting a cavity or losing my teeth is greater than my fear of the doctor himself. Preventative measures seem more manageable than major oral challenges or procedures. I’d rather suck it up, and bear with it, than have to come in for a root canal or something. Both of my children have been seeing the dentist since they were about three and four years old. They have never seen a pediatric dentist, in fact, they started with the same amazing dentist I found almost eleven years ago when I moved to Michigan. Immediately his staff made me feel welcome and safe. And the dentist is soft-spoken, gentle and a great listener. No one ever rushes me or pushes me further than I can handle.I feel invested.
When we first moved to this house, five years ago, I thought it would be no big deal to find a new dentist. After all, why in the world would I want to drive 45 minutes to the dentist’s office for a family of four? I made the kids’ appointments first, using a neighbor’s recommendation. It was a rather large practice, which meant they could be seen at the same time. The plan was to have the kids go, giving me time to get to know the practice, and then move myself.
The kids saw someone different every time. Most of the time they didn’t remember who I was, and after a year of patronage, I got scolded for not taking The Hare to see a orthodontist after they had told me for months that we didn’t need to go yet. Amazing how when someone finally realized her jaw had stopped growing that suddenly the untrained parent was to blame for the over sight. (Even after I brought them our old dentist’s ex-rays showing she was going to need future oral surgery for a baby tooth fused to the jaw bone.) Obviously, I kept driving to my familiar dentist and found my kids another dentist all together. It’s now been five years of this dental dance. My kids have seen the same dentist for several years now, and are very happy. They are relaxed and good-natured about their visits. The office staff is alwaysprofessional and sincere, and yet, I kept driving the 45 minutes for myself.
“What’s the big deal?” you ask.
The big deal is that I have beginning stages of periodontal disease, I have for years and get my teeth cleaned twice a year, sometimes three, to help manage the gum recession. I also wear a retainer at night on the bottom of my mouth plus a mouth guard on the upper for destructive jaw clenching I do in my sleep. I also have TMJ. One area of my gums has receded so dramatically that I need to go see a gum specialist and probably have some grafting done. I am at the dentist a lot, and every time I go, my stomach is in knots with anxiety. I have trouble sleeping the night before and my bladder can’t hold a swallow of saliva. And that, is a normal reaction to a dentist I have built a relationship with over ten years.
A couple of weeks ago I noticed a dark spot forming between a couple of my teeth. It didn’t really hurt, but I did have a strange tingling or itchy sensation in that area. Flossing and brushing did nothing. Since I can’t ever remember having a cavity, I assumed this must be what it looks like, but I wasn’t worried since I had a cleaning scheduled soon. My appointment was last Wednesday. Unfortunately, The Hare woke up with a terrible stomach ache and head pounding, but no fever. The irrational side of me made her get dressed for school, because there was no way I was going to miss that dentist appointment. Of course, this caused DW to ask me again, why I haven’t changed my dentist. He could come home for a quick appointment to help out, but not for one that would take over three hours out of his work day. My hands started sweating just thinking about the possibility.
After a few, “I think I’m going to throw up” I was finally persuaded to let The Hare stay home and go back to bed. Reluctantly, I called my dentist to cancel and reschedule.
“Three weeks?” I exclaimed. There wasn’t another appointment for three weeks. My tooth could rot and fall out by then, I thought. But what else was I to do? I made the appointment.
DW insisted I call the kids dentist down the road and see when they could see me. Rolling my eyes, I dialed the number.
“Really? Monday?” I said stunned, “Like in three days Monday?”
I made that appointment too.Turned out, The Hare developed a fever by mid-morning and was diagnosed with Strep by Thursday. All week long I obsessed over this impending appointment. Sleep was interrupted, my appetite waned and I argued with myself over whether or not I should just call and cancel. By the time I woke up this morning, I thought I was going to vomit in the car on they way to the office.
The dentist was sitting in the receptionist’s office when I got there, smiling, welcoming. I, of course, started babbling like an idiot.
“Well, you’ve finally got me here….hopefully I won’t puke in your office….or pee a thousand times….or worse, start crying…”
The dentist continued to smile.
After I filled out the new patient forms, the oral hygienist was ready. As soon as I sat in her chair, I started babbling again, twiddling my fingers and grasping my hands tightly. I dribbled on and on about all of my oral medical conditions, fears and frustrations. After what seemed like an hour, I took a deep breath and sat back.
“So…you do or your don’t want me to clean your teeth today?” she asked quietly.
“Um, yeah, clean them. I’m already here.”
Turns out, I did not have a cavity, yet. It is a dark spot indicating the beginning of decay, but has not gone through the enamel yet. It is caused by age and De-calcification. In other words, I’m turning 39 next week and my teeth are just old. Plus, up and until the last five years, I have always had fluoridated city water, and now we have well water. No fluoride. The dentist said I need to be using a product like ACT to help stop further decay and fight cavities. They will be monitoring the spot at my next visit.
So now, I am over whelmed with guilt for cheating on my dentist. I’m not sure which anxiety is worse – worrying about coming to the new dentist or having to call my old dentist and break up.