I was raised by two medical professionals – and have been one since 2017 – so being around hospitals and doctors’ offices is just sort of natural to me. To go visit either parent at work meant that I would have to go through a hospital, and even today, that weird, sterile-with-a-hint-of-bandaids smell is calming to me. I also don’t mind going to see a doctor most of the time, which I recognize is a byproduct of me being a white, mostly healthy younger person (I’ll be 40 in three years, so that last part is gradually disappearing, which is … bracing?). Even the eye doctor, with my terrible vision, isn’t scary. Sure, the little puff of air is disconcerting, and there’s a twinge of sadness knowing that I can literally see nothing once my contacts come out or glasses off, but meh, that’s been the story of my life since I was a kid. But talk about going to the dentist?
Although I appear calm on the outside? Yeah, I’m a ball of anxiety.
Part of it stems from my childhood dentist, who actually kind of traumatized me over the fifteen years I went to see him. He was snarky, aggressive, and overly critical – something that I don’t believe needs to come from somebody who talks to children*, but whatever – and it took me up until a short time ago to realize that he was an influence on the terror I feel when someone mentions going to the dentist. Another part is I’m a giant baby when it comes to mouth pain. I can handle third degree burns, tetanus shots, diarrhea, etc., but the second I feel a slight twinkle of discomfort in my teeth, I turn into a waffle-y, whiny child that calls her mom to complain. And I do call my mom to complain. And the majority of experiences I’ve had in the dentist chair, which are admittedly comfy, have been nothing but pain. My two (TWO) root canals on the same tooth, the poking and prodding, my jaw getting ridiculously sore because it’s being forced to stay open, and honestly, countless times where I was just trying to keep from screaming. So yeah, I’m on the far side of nervous the morning of dental appointments, as you might imagine.
Since I’m starting nursing school in May, I wanted to get the majority of my doctor visits and yearly exams done before my last day of employment, and the dentist was the last one I scheduled. I legitimately do not remember the last time I went to see a dentist, but it was probably somewhere around 2012, coincidentally right around the time I left my full-time job as a social worker (and around the time my ex was chipping away at my autonomy. Crazy how that shit matches up, right?). Being the upfront person that I am, I reveal this tidbit to my dental hygienist, Morgan, and as I add more of my issues (I’m pretty sure I have gingivitis, I have only recently started flossing again, I have sensitive teeth, TMD prevents my mouth from opening very wide, etc.), I’m surprised that I’m not getting that judgmental look that I was expecting. Instead, she’s like, “Well, let’s take a look, and we’ll work through all of this together.”
My eyes welled up a bit, you guys. It amazes me how little acts of kindness affect me, even now. And it just got better over the course of my visit: I was told exactly what was going on, the type of sensation I would have, and I got breaks to let my jaw rest (having TMD is a bitch, y’all). They legitimately cared that I was comfortable physically and emotionally, and it’s a little odd to realize how much I still don’t trust people. But that’s a completely different topic that I’ll be covering on later posts under the “in which I married a con man …” series.
Anyway, I found out a lot of not-so-fun stuff – I need to get a crown, I have gingivitis (moderate), and I’ll probably need to get an implant because the two root canals I had over a decade ago basically didn’t resolve the problem they were supposed to – but I didn’t walk out of there feeling dread at returning for my descaling tomorrow. Well, okay, so I wasn’t feeling as much dread, which I count as a mini-win? Anyway, I’m trying to mentally prepare myself for some pain, but it doesn’t have the same feel as it did before this last appointment. Like … I might someday not get physically ill at the mere mention of a dentist in passing? It’s a long way off, if I’m being completely honest, but hey. At least I know I’m getting better and starting to actually take care of myself.
* I told my dad about this recently, and he said, “Well, if it makes you feel any better, he was that way with me, too.” Which … it doesn’t make me feel better, but hey, at least the asshole is consistent?