Break On Through

Yesterday afternoon, I picked up the phone to make a great personal sacrifice. It’s something that I have been battling for quite some time, and it took immense introspection to finally break down and do it. These kinds of things are such personal decisions that I greatly appreciate the fact that no one pressured me into this sacrifice, or even harassed me. I simply woke up and decided that it needed to happen. Well, actually I woke up last Friday and decided it needed to happen, but there was no power, so that kind of screwed the pooch.

“Hello,” said the chipper receptionist on the other end of the phone. “This is Dr. Carney’s office, how may I help you?”

“Er, yes,” I said. “I, uhm, need to make an appointment? For a dental checkup?”

“Ok, I’d be happy to do that for you,” she said. “Are you a regular patient?”

“Uhm, no, I’m a…new patient?”

“Ok, great,” she said. “We love new patients! Are you having a particular problem you wanted to talk to the doctor about?”

“No, I just haven’t been to the dentist in over a decade, so I thought it was probably time. I know it’s silly, but I really am terrified of dentists. But I know I should forestall any problems before they start.”

This was the point where I expected a long and awkward silence. Followed by being berated for not going to the dentist.

“No problem,” she said cheerfully, without missing a beat. “I’m got an appointment on the 15th, does that sound ok for you?”

I can’t really explain why I haven’t been to the dentist in over 10 years. I understand intellectually that going to the dentist is very important. That dental problems, in addition to being painful, can also cause other health problems. And I also know that the earlier you catch them, the less expensive they are. I can’t even really use lack of insurance as an excuse at this point, because I can well afford the exam fee (and if I couldn’t, I’ll bet my father would pay for it).

I really am just afraid of dentists. I don’t trust them, and I don’t like them. I think all of this stems from a dental experience which went very, very wrong when I was a child. It ultimately required the services of another dentist, who was perfectly nice and gentle but by then it was too late. I kind of feel bad for dentists, because they really do have an undeserved bad rep.

I’m sure that Dr. Carney will be perfectly nice (he’s my father’s dentist, which is why I chose him), and I doubt that he will give me too much grief about allowing over 10 years to elapse between dental appointments, because he’ll be happy I’m getting dental services now. Although he will probably have a comment about my oral piercing, which raises a brief period of debate for me; so I take it out, so that it’s not the first thing he sees? Or do I leave it in? It’s not the kind of thing I would lie about; if I took it out, I would tell him about it, since I think it’s relevant to my dental care, but I also don’t want to get into an ideological argument about whether or not piercings are harmful to the teeth. If I have any skulking dentists reading this, I would appreciate input.

I did draw the line at a tooth cleaning, though; the receptionist gently suggested it and I said I’d stick with a checkup, and again to her credit, she didn’t push it at all. In fact, she was very sweet and totally cool, and that was greatly appreciated. I imagine receptionists for dental offices are carefully chosen because of the intense burden of stigma which dentists bear.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen at my dental appointment. To my knowledge, I don’t have any dental problems, so I’m going to be a bit skeptical if the need for fillings and so forth is pronounced. I imagine that those of us who profess a knuckle-whitening fear of dentists get little notes on our files to encourage the doctor to go gently, in which case perhaps he will ease into things rather than pronouncing my mouth a total mess. My father (who does have a total mess going on in his mouth) says that he’s a good dentist who is generally helpful and informative; I guess I’ll find out.

I view my decision to finally go to the dentist as being akin to kicking a major habit. (Although obviously the psychological agony of, say, quitting smoking is far worse than the tension I experienced when I picked up the phone to call the dentist’s office.) It really is the kind of thing that someone needs to come to on their own; I am well aware of the consequences of lackadaisical dental care, so I have no excuse for not going beyond my own fear and mental block, and I finally overcame that.

Now I have a whole week to fret about what’s going to happen. Rest assured, gentle readers, I will report back on the grisly details of my dental experience, complete with x-rays if there’s anything really awesome going on inside my mouth.

3 Replies to “Break On Through”

  1. I avoided the dentist for almost fifteen years. My diligence had been haphazard for ten years before that! I’d erected a great psychological wall out of certain childhood incidents. But I dutifully chose a dentist for my daughter and took her regularly. I finally went myself to the same dentist when she was seven and I was 45. That was almost 16 years ago. I’ve had a lot of restorative work done, and I’m even in a textbook. I will be thinking of you on the 15th!!

  2. I did the same thing! I skipped the dentist from age 18 to 28. If I were you, though, I’d go ahead spring for the cleaning, even if only to find out what your teeth actually feel like with defined edges and polished surfaces.

  3. Alas, Muddleman, my fear of dentists is exceeded only by my fear of dental hygienists. As a result, it will probably take me another decade to work up the nerve for a teeth cleaning unless I need major dental work and they sedate me, in which case I might have them clean the suckers while I’m incapacitated.

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