It’s that time of the year: time for dental check-ups. I never used to go to the dentist. I was too afraid…


My children visit the dentist every six months. They don’t mind at all having their teeth examined. In fact, they all look forward to their check-ups: sitting in the huge dentist’s chair, wearing the dark glasses, trying to chat with the dentist while his fingers are stuffed in their mouths. It is all rather interesting.

It was a totally different story when I was a young child. As soon as my mother had made the appointment I would start worrying, and by the time I actually arrived at the dentist’s, my heart would be thumping violently and I’d feel clammy and sick. After a few unfortunate appointments with less than sympathetic dentists I decided, that when I had the choice, I would never ever again voluntarily open my mouth for an examination.

In this way I solved an enormous problem: I didn’t have to worry about the pain or more significantly, the humiliating comments I might receive while in the dentist’s chair. However, this way with dealing with my fear gave me a new problem: I began to worry about the state of my teeth. Was my front tooth a bit loose? Did that pain mean my tooth was decaying? Did my wisdom teeth ever appear? Was there a chance that I’d be lucky and not need them removed? Yes, my teeth were quite often the cause of anxiety. I certainly said a lot of prayers, asking for St Appolonia’s intercession, in the hope my teeth would stay in good condition and never need the attention of a dentist.

One day while the children were having their usual check-ups, the dental assistant remarked, “We’ve never examined your teeth.” Not meeting her eyes, and trying to talk without opening my mouth too far so she couldn’t see much of my teeth, I muttered, “I don’t have check-ups. I had some bad experiences with dentists as a child and I’m too frightened to sit in the chair.”

The dental assistant was most sympathetic and assured me that this dentist was a real pussy cat and very, very gentle. Of course, he would understand my fears. I digested all this but still didn’t make an appointment.

A few months later, I was forced to acknowledge that there was a rather uncomfortable feeling in my lower jaw. I cautiously opened my mouth in front of the mirror and leapt back with fear. Wow! All my teeth looked like they were decayed. Should I conquer my fear and make that appointment? I debated with myself for a couple more weeks. Then I decided to look at the situation logically. What was the worst that could happen? Maybe all my teeth would have to be removed. Would that kill me? Of course not. All my grandparents had survived quite happily without teeth of their own. And anyway, even if that course of action were needed, no one could yank out all my teeth without permission. I could simply walk out of the dental surgery if I wanted.

But what if I decided to follow the dentist’s advice? What about the pain? I imagined the long, sharp needle burying its way into my tender gum and enormous steel pliers gripping and twisting and yanking. After gulping a few times, I resolutely pushed these images of horror far from my mind and decided that the dentist could inflict no pain greater than that of childbirth. And I had survived that eight times. That convinced me. Women are brave. We are strong and there is nothing we cannot endure. A simple dental examination should be a piece of cake.

So appointment made, I turned up on the correct day pleased that I was still resolved to go through with it. I’d warned the receptionist: “My teeth are in an awful state. They’ll need lots of work but I’ll only be able to have a little bit done at a time due to the expense.”

“That’s fine,” she soothed as she ushered me through the surgery door.

I climbed up onto the huge chair, hid myself behind the dark glasses and clasped my shaking hands tightly together on my chest.

“I haven’t been to the dentist for years. I’ve been too afraid. My childhood experience was horrific. You’ll find lots wrong,” I babbled all in one breath. There! I’d prepared the dentist for whatever horrors he’d find.

Mirrors and scrapers and fingers were stuffed into my mouth and I closed my eyes and tried to pretend I was elsewhere.

After a few minutes: “How long ago did you say your last examination was?”

Was the news bad? “Over 20 years.” (nearer 25)

“Well, your teeth are looking pretty good. You’ve looked after them well.” Pretty good? What about all that decay? It wasn’t decay? Just old silver fillings?

“There’s a couple of small cavities in your upper wisdom teeth that will need filling. I’ll be very gentle. I’ll take it slowly and explain every step of the procedure.” I opened my eyes and saw the prepared needle heading towards my mouth. I thought about fainting but decided I wouldn’t live that one down if my children ever got to hear about it. So instead I reminded myself that I was a brave woman. A few minutes passed before I realised that I was surviving. I was in a dentist chair having treatment and I was quite OK.

Twenty minutes later, my teeth were perfect and all they needed was a de-scale and polish. Just as I was about to hop off the chair I suddenly thought about that pain in my lower jaw, the one that had prompted my appointment in the first place. Should I mention it or count myself lucky and escape while I could? No, I had to ask. “Oh you have just been a bit too enthusiastic with the dental floss. You’ve irritated the gums between your teeth.” I’d plucked up all that courage to come to the dentist because of a pain associated with a sore gum? But I didn’t care. It was all over. I was on my way back out to reception.

The receptionist glanced at my anxiously as I approached her desk to pay my bill. “Are you OK?”

“Oh yes, fine,” I grinned at her. “Dr A was a real pussy cat just as you said.”

”When can you come for your next appointment?”


“I don’t need to come back. Dr A did everything today. Just two tiny fillings.”

I floated home feeling absolutely wonderful. “Only two tiny fillings,“ I announced to my children who’d been rather bemused by my fear of dentists. “Do you want to see my beautiful teeth?”

So I conquered a fear, a fear that had been bothering me for many, many years. I can look in the mirror without avoiding my open mouth. I can smile while talking to the dentist as he examines my children’s teeth. Really there was nothing to worry about: my teeth were in reasonable shape, the dentist didn’t accuse me of neglecting my teeth, he didn’t make me feel helpless and frightened, and the pain was negligible. Dentistry and dentists have come a long way since my childhood.

Our own childhood experiences often influence what we want for our own children. I certainly didn’t want mine to experience my fear of dentists. It seems I have been successful in that area. I have also been successful in another way. I have proved that it is never too late to conquer a fear.

Now I am going through the list of my other fears. What shall I tackle next? Driving alone through the centre of Sydney? Exposing my tuneless voice to the instruction of a singing teacher? Perhaps I should put on my swimmers, brave the water and take diving lessons? One thing is definite: we all have hidden resources. We are stronger than we think. We just need to make the first step.

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  1. I can certainly relate to this one, Sue. I was so bad that I'd ask my dh James to take the boys when they were little! When I occassionally pluck up enough courage to have a check up, I always walk out wondering why I left it so long. Mind you when I'm in the chair I continually pray!

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  2. I can quite understand the fear of dentists.

    No wonder … the shrill sound of that drill spinning near your mouth is enough to scare the toughest of characters.

    You hear so many alarming stories about things going wrong, especially when patients are subjected to local or total anesthetic, it is no wonder dentists are feared by many.

    You know … I was nearly killed by a dentist once.

    I was driving up a narrow country lane and he raced towards me at speed on the wrong side of the road.

    Now I avoid dentists whenever I can.

    God bless.

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  3. Tricia, I understand completely!

    There is nothing worse than someone who used to fear the dentist but has reformed. I keep telling Andy there's nothing to worry about and tease him saying I'm going to make him an appointment to have his teeth checked. He's been avoiding the dentist for many years too! He is not amused.

    Hopefully, our children will never know the horrors we experienced.

    Yes, I pray while in the chair too!

    God bless.

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  4. Hi Victor,
    wouldn't it be awful to have worked up the courage to go to the dentist and have lots of work done, and then come out with perfect teeth only to be killed by a speeding dentist on the way home?

    Yes, I advise you to avoid dentists.

    God bless!

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  5. Sue,
    I'm with you on this one. My daughter LOVES going to the dentist but I hate it. All my wisdom teeth were impacted because my jaw was too small and I had to get them all removed - unpleasant experience to say the least. You're absolutely right though...compared to childbirth going to the dentist is nothing :)

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  6. I can so relate to this. I had my husband bring our kids to the dentist! I was afraid of passing my fear onto them! I finally found a real gentle dentist. Now I go every 6 months. But still, I pray a lot. The Jesus Prayer.

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  7. Mary,

    I am so sorry to hear about your wisdom teeth. I was so relieved when mine came through with no problems. I probably would have fainted if I'd had to have them removed!

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  8. Colleen,

    Yes, I also didn't want my children to suffer a fear of dentists. I think you are right: 6 monthly check ups are needed. Not much can go wrong in 6 months. Any longer and I start to worry about what horrors the dentist will find and then I don't want to go.

    A gentle dentist is a real treasure!

    God bless.

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  9. Grrreeat post! Loved it! My husband just went through the same thing - he had not been in 22 years since we were married. He was scared to death - nauseous with anxiety. That bugger had NO cavities after all these years - really good dental genes, I guess??
    Seriously, I'm so happy for him and for you that you finally had a good experience and that you conquered a fear! That's a big accomplishment!

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  10. Dana, So glad to hear your husband's teeth were OK. I know that feeling of relief! I still have to persuade my husband to make an appointment to see to his teeth.

    Yes, it's a wonderful feeling having conquered a fear. It's no longer niggling away there in the background of my mind.

    Thank you for stopping by!

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  11. Sue, I tagged you for a saintly meme! (You don’t have to participate. No pressure!)
    Your blog looks great!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Colleen, we have both been typing away to each other at the same time! I have just left a comment on your blog and thanked you for tagging me. Yes, I will think! I'm glad you like the new look blog. All due to Victor and his suggestions.

    ReplyDelete

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