When I was a lad growing up in Wisconsin I heard about the dentist – I don’t recall if I heard about it from my big sister or from the kids at school. They made it sound like the most unimaginable horror (they said it was a scary place with a mean man) one could encounter. A part of my wondered why we had to go to these places at all, it hardly seemed fair, what did we do to deserve such a thing?
What really stuck out in my mind was “The worst part is the needle they stick you with”. My developing mind took that into consideration and I decided I’d avoid the worst part by just refusing to let them stick me with the needle. My logic was flawless – to avoid the worst part just refuse it. No one explained to me at that time that they were injecting a numbing agent into me so I wouldn’t feel the pain – and no one was going to convince me of that now, I know they’re just mean.
So there I was at the dentist refusing the needle that would hurt me. The dentist was flabbergasted – I just wouldn’t let him near me with it. He tried to reason with me but I wouldn’t have any of it, I knew it was a ploy. The dentist, in all his adult wisdom thought I’d change my mind as soon as the drilling started, seems logical right?
But I was living in fear, sure this hurt but the fear of the pain of the needle the “worst part” had me hang in there. I was in agony, no tears though…. this was a victory. When the dentist finished he told my mother I sat through things he’d seen grown man cry about with Novocaine – she didn’t understand why either and as a child it was hard to explain my logic to adults (they never seemed to understand).
Every visit to the dentist was the same – I’d refuse their needle and I’d get mad at them when they’d even put that peppermint cottontail in my mouth – I knew what that meant. Eventually the dentist got to know me and just didn’t even try. No screaming, no crying… just hold on tight to those arm rests and be ready to rip them out if need be. Isn’t it amazing what a kids brain can do?
When I was an adult, after years of going through that kind of pain regularly, I decided it wasn’t worth it at all. Alcohol was more important than the dentist at that point anyway, who cares what my teeth look like? That was until one wisdom tooth rotted and had to be pulled out – I still refused the Novocaine and the dentist thought I was nuts (new dentist) and I likely was.. but I made it through that too. (that guy pulled out that tooth with a pliers, I swear he did)
All this led to when I was living in DC and broke a tooth – I was pretty frightened at this point of the dentist and I’d talk about it at meetings and my body temperature would rise when I’d start to even think about going. A member of the program suggested a good dentist and I took a chance… this dentist was very calm, kind and convinced me to try the Novocaine… but not before I had several anxiety attacks could I be convinced. (it helped that he was pretty to look at too).
I’ve gotten better at this dentist thing. I have to constantly remind myself to lower my shoulders (they’re up to my ears), breathe and concentrate on something, anything else. I can sometimes meditate at the dentist, just calmly take myself out of the situation and truly relax… it’s crazy.
This Thursday morning I’m heading back to the dentist, I need two crowns (old fillings are cracking and breaking my teeth). So I’ll go and remember all my tricks and let them give me anything they want for the pain… and I honestly think I’ll likely be at work after it’s done.
I’m not living in that fear anymore – I’m free of it. (although the co-worker who had a root canal and developed an infection last week kind of freaks me out…but I can get through that too…