I don’t like dentists.

Well, I don’t like most dentists. There’s one at my current practice who has yet to do anything to lose my trust; in fact he has actually done work that has been a noticeable improvement.

In truth it’s not even so much the individual dentists – though I would cheerfully throttle the one who essentially told me she was going to replace a filling only for me to see the words “root canal” on the computer screen when I went to make the appointment.

It’s not an irrational phobia either, yes I do get anxious about what might happen, and maybe stress out a bit more than is called for if something does need doing but that applies to most things in life with me.

No, the real problem is pain. Pure and simple. (And I’m not a fan of needles either.)

The dentist I went to as a child never ever used any anaesthetic or pain relief. My memory of those visits is of a man with too big hands and me gripping the arms of the couch so hard, digging my fingernails into the vinyl.

Subsequent dentists have used local anaesthetics. In needles. Which hurt.

I was stunned to discover earlier this year that it is actually possible for an injection into the crook of my jaw to genuinely only be “a little scratch”; I don’t know how the nice dentist does it but I’m not complaining.

Unfortunately it doesn’t always go smoothly. My last visit, with a different dentist at the practice, was a perfect example of why I still have problems with dentists.

First off, when I went in I had no noticeable problems. I don’t doubt that the filling did need replacing, I can’t actually remember when it was done it was so long ago, but it hadn’t been causing me any discomfort at all.

So we start, injection done, not completely painless but pretty good, cheek going nicely numb. I am asked if my tongue is going numb too, “not really” I say “tiny bit right at the back but that’s about it”. Apparently this is deemed good enough as she gets the drill out.

Several minutes later, no real sense of time – ZING – there’s still a spot that’s live as the drill goes over it, bearable but unpleasant. I raise my hand, she stops and I tell her.

Do I want a top-up of anaesthetic? There’s something about the way this is asked that suggests the correct answer is no, so I ask if there’s much more to do.

“Umm… A bit…” I decide I can tough it out if it’s not going to take too long. I had this problem once before and managed to cope with it, though, as I remembered later, that was a much smaller filling.

Another few minutes or so and the discomfort is turning into pain. I raise my hand again and tell her it’s hurting now and I need the top-up. Injection given. The question about the tongue being numb again, same answer, the extra anaesthetic has made no difference.

More drilling. More pain. A brief respite as the drill starts leaking and they try to fix it. Now I’m in pain and wet.

Once the drilling has finally finished, even blowing the air across the tooth to dry it before putting in the replacement filling causes me to whimper out loud.

Finally the filling is in place, but my teeth don’t fit together properly. She tidies up the filling and announces that it’s not the filling that’s hitting the tooth above, though she gives no explanation for what actually is causing the problem.

I look at the clock. I’ve been in the office for over an hour, allowing for the preamble that’s over 45 minutes of having work done. 45 minutes of discomfort and pain.

Then to add insult to injury, of course you have to pay for the displeasure.

I went home, sat down and cried.

I do my best not to show pain unless it absolutely unavoidable – the time my finger got “slammed” in a door would be one notable exception – but I came very close to calling my mum up and being pathetic down the phone that day; it was only Codepope’s return and a hug that forestalled me.

I was so drained by the whole experience that it took three days before I felt “normal” again.

And in spite of giving my jaw plenty of time to settle down – it hasn’t been the same since it was over-strained by a dentist doing my root canal under sedation – my teeth still don’t fit together properly and my jaw still aches and I can only really eat on the right side of my mouth.

What should have been a straightforward replacement filling instead became an hour of discomfort growing into pain followed by three days of feeling shaky and weeks of stress and jaw aches with my teeth not fitting together properly.

Maybe I should have gone back before now but a combination of practical considerations – a planned visit to my mum amongst them – and the anxiety caused by that last visit, well, can you blame me for deciding not to take her up on her cursory suggestion to go back and see her again if it didn’t settle down?

Tomorrow I have another appointment, this time with the nice dentist. Made at the same time as the last one, with the intention of replacing another old filling. That won’t be happening.

I am hoping that he will be able to fix, painlessly, whatever went wrong the last time and I can once again have teeth that fit together properly and my jaw can stop being stiff and achy and I can get my stress levels back to normal.

But even if he can, it will be a long time before I’ll believe that a simple filling can be painless again.


One thought on “Dentists

  1. I’m sorry, Sarah. That sounds horrible. If there’s comfort in community, I had a very similar experience at the hands of a dentist in NYC last year, and I had exactly the same thing – my teeth wouldn’t fit together properly after either. This same dentist really hurt Arielle a lot too, and it was only by going to a better dentist near here that she got a professional, painless experience.

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