An Overload Of Oral Intrusion
I did something yesterday that was a very big deal for me, something that I was not sure I would ever be able to do again. Several years ago, I had an experience that has stuck with me. It was traumatic enough that now, years later, I still think of it semi-regularly, and I am sure that even my closest of friends is sick of my bringing it up. The fear that this incident left me with has continued to haunt me, and recently, it began to cost me my health. The Fiery One has been a support to me, gently urging me to work through my fear enough to be able to get help, and his patience finally paid off yesterday. I swallowed what fear I could, sat on some of it, and pushed the rest as far down inside as possible, and . . .
I went to the dentist. I know that this fear is not at all uncommon. Most of my friends experience at least a mild anxiety when faced with a visit to the dentist's office, and it's a natural thing. As animals, putting ourselves in the prone position on a fully reclined chair with our mouths gaping open, having someone poke and prod and possibly drill in it, and having a bright light shone in our eyes is a completely unnatural experience that induces feelings of great vulnerability and fear. If not for the incredible practicality of keeping up good dental health, voluntarily putting ourselves in such a situation would seem ridiculous to most. So, I know that there is nothing unique about my having such a fear, but I do have an extra really good reason for it.
But I will skip that for the moment. First, I want to tell you that I did not always fear the dentist. When I was a little kid in Calgary, Alberta, I had a dentist that rocked. He talked to me like I was real person instead of in that high-pitched aren't-you-so-cute voice that too many grown-ups used, and at the end of every visit I had the choice of any ring I wanted from the box they kept at the receptionist's desk. I used to collect them and look forward to the next dentist visit so that I could get this colour or that colour of ring to add to my collection. Strangely, I also liked the way it smelled of sweet nail polish remover when he drilled my teeth.
When my family moved to Cosmopolis, the school system there had dental technicians in the elementary schools, and students were taken one by one from class for their appointments every six months. When I was in about grade five or six, I was called out of class to go to the dental technicians' office. I knew that they were going to give me fillings, because I had just seen them the week before, and everyone in class said "ooooooooooh..." in unison when I got up to leave. I was right. They gave me three fillings in my bottom right teeth. Everything went as it usually did, and I was fine. The next day, I was called out of class again. Everyone said "ooooooooooh..." in unison again. This time I was confused. They gave me three fillings in my bottom left teeth. It must have been an overload of oral intrusion or something, because now I felt upset, and when I went home after school, I told my mother what that I had been given three more fillings on the other side. She frowned and called the school to find out what was going on. It turned out that they had fucked up. The fillings were originally supposed to be on the left side, but they had been looking at the x-rays in reverse or had mislabelled them or something like that. I was not impressed, because now the back of my mouth looked like a heap of scrap metal.
And so my anxiety began. It all started when my trust was lost. After that, I avoided the dental nurses in my elementary school at all costs. I wouldn't show up for my appointments and I skipped class fluoride treatments without trouble until I was told that I would have to have my last loose baby tooth removed so that my braces could be put on properly. I avoided it and avoided it and avoided it until one of the dental technicians dragged me out of the hallway and into her office one day when I was passing by. She sat me down and gave me the option of having the tooth yanked with or without freezing. I chose freezing, but as the needle neared my mouth, I panicked. Then I told her to just to pull it, but her gloved hand approached, and I panicked again. I decided on the freezing. I changed my mind and picked pulling it without freezing. This went on for quite a while before she finally said that I had to choose one or the other and stick with it, or she was going to choose the way to go about it. I opted for the needle. My jaw was tight with terror as her hand moved further, further, ever further into my mouth. I bit down in panic, catching both her hand and the needle in my teeth. Ms. Kirkpatrick (I still remember her name all these years later) jumped back, rubbed her hand, and ordered me to leave her office and never to return. She was pointing at me as she whisper-yelled it through clenched teeth, and I slunk out of there feeling incredibly embarrassed and confused. What had just happened? To tell the truth, that last baby tooth was only holding on by a thread, and it would have taken almost nothing to remove it, but I had always had an unearthly dread of losing my teeth. I could be poked at, scraped, and drilled, but getting rid of my baby teeth was another matter entirely. And now I had shame to add to my fear. Poor Ms. Kirkpatrick. Poor me, dragging my sorry butt home, thinking over and over the fact that I had just bit the dental nurse.
Now I will tell you why I have a really good reason for having near abject fear of dentists. Following the event at my elementary school, I only went to the dentist if my mother made the appointment, but not without what became the usual build-up of fear and loathing the week before the date had been set. I treated going to the dentist as most people do - a necessary evil. That is, until my early twenties. I had grown braver over the years and had opted to have my wisdom teeth removed in order to stop my teeth from crowding. I had two appointments set: one for the wisdoms on the right side of my mouth and one for the wisdoms on the other. My first appointment started out all right. I was given two needles in both the upper and the lower jaw, we waited for them to take, and then the dentist started pulling. I could feel everything. I yelped, they apologized, and I was given two more needles in my lower jaw. Still, no dice. Two more needles. Nothing. This went on until I lost count at somewhere over ten needles in my lower jaw alone. Keep in mind that in between each set of needles, the dentist would pull on my lower wisdom tooth, so it was part way up and fucking killing me. The dentist and her assistant were obviously becoming annoyed with me, and they asked if I had money for laughing gas. When I said that I didn't, the dental assistant sat on my arms while the dentist yanked out both my wisdom teeth sans freezing. No kidding. I thought I was going to die. The rest of that day is a blur in my memory. I stumbled through the actions of picking up my prescription for ibuprofen and walking home. I remember sitting on my sofa and weeping for hours. Oh yeah, and I remember vowing to avoid those fuckers like other people's warts.
I recognize that I made a hasty decision there. I had come across one nasty dentist. I should have known when I looked her up in the yellow pages, because her last name was Hertz. One or two bad dentists does not mean that all dentists are evil (even if they seem that way). Even so, in the years between then and now, I have only been to a dentist once before yesterday, and the results are starting to be felt. I was talking to Friday about it a couple of nights ago, and she said she would switch fears with me so that I could do her terrifying thing and she could go to my dentist appointment. That sounds perfect, now if only the universe could be twisted in such a way that neuroses could be traded at will.
It turned out that the appointment yesterday was not all that terrible. Logically, I know that anticipation is almost always worse than the anticipated event itself, but emotionally, I'm forgetful. The dental assistant was quite nice, and after years of my lackadaisical tooth care, she only had a minor amount of tartar to scrape away. My gums have started receding, because apparently I brush excessively hard, and I have pain in one tooth, so she gave me tiny tubes of Sensodyne but no toothbrush. Long gone are the days of free toothbrushes, I guess. Nothing terrible happened. I didn't die from anxiety or bite anyone or go through medieval forms of torture. Look at me! I'm a woman who has the courage to face down her fears and say Ha! Take that! I am also a woman who is gritting her teeth at the thought that next Wednesday she will find herself faced with a needle and a drill, but after those wisdoms being pulled without anaesthetic, I can handle just about anything (or so I will keep saying until next Wednesday). Are you still up for the trade, Friday?