As a kid, I wasn’t particularly afraid of the dentist. I remember my mom always talked about dreading the dentist, and I thought it was sort of silly. It was certainly better than the doctor, where a “healthy” visit pretty much guaranteed a SHOT. Dentist visits, at least in childhood, were needle free, and often included stupid little toys or stickers that nonetheless made me happy.
Eventually the charm of rubber smile erasers faded, overwhelmed by the discomfort of fluoride treatments, and probably more memorably, CONSTANT scolding that I wasn’t brushing enough, or not right, or don’t I floss? I floss every day, but I sleep with my mouth open. Apparently that makes me a bleeder, and no amount of brushing or scolding will change that.
I think I really did forget. It’s easy to lose track of time when you don’t really have a regular dentist especially since the student health care I switched to didn’t include dental insurance. I knew the importance of regularly going to the dentist, but I kept putting it off until tomorrow.
Finally, after a five year gap, I had a brown stain on my front tooth and an upcoming wedding. I figured I’d better get my ass in a dental chair. This time, I was truly petrified.
I was afraid I’d need a root canal. My teeth aren’t really the best to begin with, and the 6 month cleanings were the last line of defense, the metaphorical archers, fending off cavities. I knew my outer perimeter warriors (brushing and flossing) weren’t strong enough to put off the enemy without air cover. I was afraid the brown tooth was rotting from the inside. True, I didn’t have any pain, but for all I knew, all my teeth were completely dead and just days away from crumbling completely.
So I went to the dentist, far more tense and worried than ever before. Fortunately the damage wasn’t as bad as I expected. I had some cavities, but only five, and three of those were old fillings starting to decay, which apparently just happens. The stain on my tooth was uneven enamel, polished away in a matter of minutes.
The problem is no matter how theoretically painless, going to the dentist always ends up hurting. Getting my cavities hurt far more this time than I remember from when I was younger. Possibly this is because memory has faded, but I think it’s more likely that degrading fillings made the holes bigger. I’m told now that white fillings are only meant to last two or three years. That means every three years I’ll need a new, slightly bigger, slightly deeper hole drilled in my tooth. Even the silver ones only last five years.
After the Novocain wore off, my teeth and gums hurt for weeks. I’m told this is also normal, though I don’t remember that either. Currently, more than a month after my most recent filling, it hurts to floss between two of my teeth and I can’t chew on the left side. I complained to my dentist and, after having the teeth checked, was told, there’s nothing wrong. Even though it hurts. Even though I can only eat on one side of my mouth. That’s just fine.
Then there’s my notoriously sensitive gums. Bleeding is pretty much guaranteed, followed by scolding for not flossing, which I do. I feel guilty even though I’m doing everything right. Getting my teeth cleaned is downright painful even without the horrible noise caused by scraping off tarter. It sounds, and feels, like they’re scraping off part of my teeth.
At least when you go to the Doctor, you get a pat on the head if you’re more or less healthy. An approving smile if your blood preassure is where it should be. These days, I don’t have to expect booster shots every healthy visit. Go to the dentist and you are in for an uncomfortable half hour with someone’s hands in your mouth, awful noises and gagging on x-ray film. Cavities mean a needle that, swear to god, looks like a medieval torture instrument, leveled at you in your vulnerable leaned back chair, temporary facial paralysis, nasty tasting fluid made up of saliva, decay and PARTICLES OF YOUR TEETH. And cavities or not, always with the scolding.
It’s not the dentist’s fault, but going in is at best unpleasant. It seems like every time you go it’s just a little bit more painful, instead of less, and no matter how hard you try, your teeth are a losing battle, wearing down more every year. I suppose that’s true of your body as well, but at 27 it’s not nearly so apparent. When my dentist says fillings need to be replaced every few years, I wonder how long I’ll have a tooth there. I face mortality, in the form of my tooth, and everything hurts more than it did before they “fixed” it.