August 22, 2008

This morning I had a dentist appointment to have a couple of small cavities filled.  Growing up when I did, I have a almost paralyzing fear of the dentist.  Between braces, three abscessed teeth, a couple of root canals, and one root amputation, I’ve had more than my fair share of difficult dental procedures.  My childhood dentist was a fearful character in my life; he used to tell me that he was spraying rat poison in my mouth, to keep me from swallowing when he sprayed fluoride on my teeth.  ”Don’t swallow!  Rat poison!

I believe that we are all born with a certain amount of dental courage, and once it is used up, there isn’t any more.  I used mine up long ago.

Finding a dentist you like isn’t easy.  Finding one you like, who is compassionate to your fears without being condescending or saccharin is next to impossible.  Last winter, at the recommendation of one of Sibylle’s friends I tried a new dentist.  I hadn’t been in a number of years and I was afraid, not only of going, but that he would find lots of problems.

I was hugely relieved when there weren’t any problems that couldn’t be taken care of by some more rigorous flossing.  Unfortunately, the dentist himself was less than I’d hoped for.  Still, first impressions are sometimes wrong, so I thought I’d give it a go, and scheduled a second, six-month cleaning.  At the cleaning last week the hygienist discovered two small spots that concerned her.  The dentist agreed and said I needed fillings.

My worst fears realized.

Upon arriving at the office, and being led back to the treatment station, the assistant said that Sibylle would have to wait in the lounge.  I said that I was terrified of the dentist and that if she couldn’t stay with me, the procedure wasn’t going to happen.  She excused herself to talk to the dentist, and came back saying that they would recommend another dentist.

I said, “Thank you, I’ll find my own dentist,” and we left.

Part of the fear equation when I was a child was that I had no choice but to go to the dentist.  It was scary, and often painful.  The lack of control only added to the situation.  Even as an adult, it is hard sometimes to disagree with authority - especially medical authority.  We are all conditioned to respect and listen to doctors.  Listening to myself, and doing what took care of me this morning, was hugely empowering.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.