The Tooth, The Whole Tooth

I’ll announce the winner of the Crochet At Play book tomorrow (Monday) but today I wanted to talk about teeth.

I’m a dentist’s nightmare. Actually, I’m a hygienists nightmare – and that is in no small part because my own nightmares often include dental hygienists.

I am phobic about teeth. My teeth, your teeth, my kid’s teeth – anyone’s teeth.  I’m SO fearful of teeth that I can’t watch a movie when some tooth nonsense is afoot (Zombie Apocolypse? No problem. Lose a tooth? I’m out the door…)

When my kids had loose teeth, they were directed to daddy, who had to deal with the whole tooth fairy thing. Even now Hannah can make me turn white by discussing the oral surgery involved in her braces. I am a tooth wimp.

Because I’m a redhead I bleed freely (at least, that’s our family lore and I’m sticking to it!) so any time I’m in the dentists chair there’s the added horror; ‘The Return of the Tsarovitch’

Add to that an insane sensitivity (I have always been able to ‘hear’ loud noises in my teeth) and I find myself putting off dental visits.

My own father had weak teeth, also pain filled and with the same sensitivity as mine, and his were all removed at age 42 when he began wearing dentures.  I’ve been luckier, but my avoidance of the dentist means that in my visits (usually every 5 years or so, coinciding with a boost of courage and erratic dental coverage) I generally have at least one cavity to be filled and sometimes a root canal.

Thursday I had a dental visit, a trip to a whole new hygienist (the last one was simply doing her job, but her disgust at my fear was palpable) so I was terrified.

It was warm enough here to bike, which calmed me and gave me a sense of control. I had every strategy in place (I’m actually tearing up as I write this – teeth are a great source of fear for me)

I had a good book on my iPhone along with soothing music by Anonymous4 (my favorite musical group to bring me peace!) I’d taken a pain pill prophylactically, and I was practicing the same deep breathing that got me through delivering my 11lb baby boy (with no meds, my claim to fame!)

I explained my situation to the hygienist, who was absolutely lovely; kind, warm, human and very understanding. She listened, she was careful, and she praised my courage. She took my blood pressure and the fact that I’m usually 120/80, but on this day was 160/90 was pretty telling. We waited, she chatted more, explained what she’d be doing, and my blood pressure came down.

This woman is a walking saint, and I hereby announce that I would follow this hygienist anywhere.

Xrays were taken (painlessly – I have had hygienists who were pretty brutal with those cardboard pieces) and my gumline was measured. The hygienist was smart enough to realize I was afraid, practically phobic, but also quite interested in the goings on in my mouth. She explained what she was doing in a very easy yet clinical way, taking my mind off the pain of her little measuring tool. The few times she dug deep enough to hurt, she was apologetic but firm and we continued.

I really liked her style, as I said, she was very human.

The dentist came in and we discussed my two cavities, and the fact that one might actually turn out to be yet another root canal. I explained my fear of teeth, my various forays with flossing (always ending badly, in tears and recrimination) and my use of dental washes and rinses (which hasn’t taken the place of flossing, but apparently has helped this non-flosser beat back gum disease for another year)

It was decided my cleaning should take place over 2 visits, with a local anesthetic, and that an anti-anxiety med should be used before the visit. I felt like a baby, but I also felt grateful that my fears and VERY real pain issues were being addressed.

I left feeling better than I’d felt after a dentist visit in many years! I used to see a dental student at the NJ Medical and Dental school in Newark (Hi Vinny!) and he was kind and gentle (and gorgeous!)  Since then I’ve been looking for a dentist who has the same gentleness (if not the same amazing Italian looks – sigh…)

I may not have found the dentist (the one who saw me is leaving the practice, I’m scheduled with a different dentist for my return visit, but I’m assured he’s a kind one) but I have CERTAINLY found a hygienist I can trust.

After I left, though, my mouth was so sore from the poking that it took about 3 days for me to feel myself again. I sound like a baby – I FEEL like a baby – but this is my tooth reality. The first week in December is when the next round of visits occurs, the prescription for lorazepam’s been called into the pharmacy, and I’ve actually begun flossing with those little floss-on-a-handle things.

My mother kept her teeth until her death at 85. I’m beginning to feel hopeful that I might do the same!

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8 thoughts on “The Tooth, The Whole Tooth

  1. Jackie Garland

    My son – in – law was recently given the snooker table he had as a boy as his parents are moving and didn’t want to take it with them. There was only one remaining pocket so as my grandsons were playing with it the snooker balls were falling onto the floor. I was asked to crochet some pockets for the balls.This was interesting as I was winging it without a pattern. I took them along to the three craft groups I attend and when I was asked what they were I replied ‘ball pockets’. This caused great hilarity especially as, to begin with, I didn’t realise why people were laughing! What else do you call them…..? Great fun! I have five grandchildren and would love to win this book. They are 4 months to 8yrs, so I’d really use it.

  2. penny

    oh annie! i’m so thankful you had a good visit and a plan that will help you! {{hugs}} i’m learning that dental care has changed quite a bit in the past 30 years and you should NOT feel different for needing things that others aren’t requesting. good staff (and it should be the entire office) will care about not just the dental work but the whole person. {{hugs}} i’ll be thinking good thoughts for your visits.

    getting the hang of flossing and finally doing it daily has completely changed my dental visits from fear to well, not exactly enjoyable but we’re all amazed at how much “better” my entire mouth is. {{hugs}}

  3. Gillian V

    All the best with the dental stuff. It’s super important for your long term general health so I’m really glad you’re getting it solved. You’re not alone in your fear (With me it’s eyes.) and I’ve recently heard about the consequences of inaction. Keep going!

  4. Kathy in San Jose

    A gentle hygenist and dentist are worth their weight in gold! My husband needs to take Valium before I drive him to/from the dentist for similar reasons. You definitely earned some good health points for going — or at least some quiet time with yarn!

  5. Helen M

    OMG….Me too! Thanks to an inexplicably awful first experience as a kid going to the dentist I have a fear of all dental professionals and procedures. I know dentistry has come a long way since this experience, but it’s left its imprint on me. I get teary just thinking about going to the dentist. So, yeah….I feel your pain.
    Thanks for sharing.

  6. janet

    I had my own experiences with “nazi” dentists over the years, then I was referred to Dr. Dan Smith. He was all about acknowledging the fact that dentistry is painful and doing everything possible to minimize it and proceed to do the most beautiful work I or anybody else I have ever referred to him has experienced. When I expressed fear, he simply addressed it in the most appropriate manner at the time (nitrous oxide, anti-anxiety meds, a joke) and moved on. He even used anesthetic a few times when he was working on teeth that no longer had nerves. I used to say I never laughed so much as when I went to the dentist. Alas, Dan retired and sold his practice a year ago. The new guy is very good and very caring, but he is not Dan. I guess there never will be another. I will continue with the new dentist; I think we just have to find our line of communication.


    I am glad you have finally found someone who will acknowledge and honor your fears, fear of pain, and overall anxiety. That is definitely the biggest key to successful dentistry. Never be afraid to discuss your fear (um, did that come out right?). You are doing right with getting the prophylactic pain med and anti-anxiety drug beforehand.

    I have only one other suggestion. If you can get the dentist to consider it, ask them to start using the WAND for anesthesia. The needles are so tiny as to be truly painless. Dan started using this thing about 10 years ago, and it has made all the difference in lessening the anxiety attached to needles in the mouth.

    Good on ya for getting to the dentist, finding a hygienist you like and trust, and for facing your fears. I know how big a step that is. {{{HUGS}}}

  7. Cindy in un-Happy Valley

    Though I don’t have the same dental phobias I refuse to patronize any dental professional who does not respect their patients. I have a family member who has similar issues, and we have found a dental office that that is simply lovely. Their motto is “no pain dentistry” – and they mean it. Also when I’m having my teeth cleaned, I’m constantly entertained by the hygienist in the next office chatting up her child patients. “Do you want root beer toothpaste or bubble gum toothpaste?” (Sounds vile, no? Probably because I’m not 6.) “Dora the Explorer toothbrush or Spiderman?” She keeps up a constant patter of kid friendly chatting – about school, Angry Birds, etc. This is a friendly place.

    Good luck with the work. I can’t imagine a dentist in that practice would be less empathic.

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