Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Truth Can Be Scarier Than Fiction

Fear of dentistry is, of course, not unique to me. However, I'm thinking suffering from it for half a century might be. I'll explain . . . Thinking they were doing a good thing, our parents found a pediatric dentist for us kids. My first visit, with Mom sitting close by, the dentist cleaned my teeth and casually said he would take care of some cavities next time. I came away with a new toothbrush, a tiny tube of Crest toothpaste and teeth that felt like there were giant gaps between them. The next visit was nothing like the first. This guy meant business and I was it. Taking x-rays was not fun because the film had hard edges and hurt my gums and tongue. Still, it didn't prepare me for what was to come. Some people fear the white coats that doctors wear. Dr. R. wore a white jacket, but it had the same effect. When he approached me with a huge, hypodermic needle and told me to open my mouth as wide as I could all hell broke loose. He actually expected me to obediently do what he said. HA! My terrified screams probably were heard in the next town! At that point, a woman in a white dress and thick, stealthy, white shoes entered, grabbed me from the back and held me to the chair. The dentist then forced open my mouth and jabbed me with the needle, rotating it around inside my gum. By the time he withdrew it, tears were streaming down my red face, and I was breathing in heaving gasps. From then on, I was a lost soul, strenuously hoping that my life would soon end. You can figure out the rest of the story, so I won't continue the horror. Suffice it to say, this eight-year-old's trust in adults ended that day. Five years later it was time to start orthodontia. With that came the extraction of two teeth to make room for the rest. The only thing I remember about that is having my first I.V. [another BIG needle!] and bleeding through my pillow while I slept that night. Oddly enough, having braces was cool when I was a kid. Some of us even competed to see who could get all the gear on first. My orthodontist was a lovely, fatherly type of guy and understood. Though he nearly suffocated me making molds of my jaws, he was kind and patient, unlike the special, pediatric dentist. Dr. P. was the type to chuckle when, in a panic, I rode my bike to his house after being hit in the mouth with a badminton birdy. The lower torture wire that was tightened every week had sprung loose and was looping over my upper lip. Dr. P. just took me into his kitchen and snipped it off. Fast-forward to the 1970s and my D.C. dentist. I told him about my phobia and he was kind and understanding. I suffered many fillings without Novocain and I do believe it hurt him almost as much as it hurt me. Then the worst happened -- he retired and left me in the hands of his young associate. Even though I still broke out in a cold sweat in the dentist's chair and had to wipe away streams of wet mascara from my cheeks, I wasn't ready to give up on Dr. H. Dr. S. turned out to be far less patient and was easily frustrated with me. In the end, I saw him only for dire emergencies. His office was in an old, red brick building [now replaced by glass and steel] at the corner of 21st and Penn., NW. His windows overlooked the avenue. During a procedure, we heard multiple sirens coming toward us. Dr. S. and I both hung out the window to watch Nancy Reagan and her Secret Service detail go by on her way to GW Hospital to visit her recently shot husband. [There are benefits to living in D.C. -- any distraction during a dental appointment is a good thing!] After all that, I feel I must provide you with a happy ending to this story. A gentle, highly skilled and patient Dr. A. came into my life -- by shear luck! Several years ago, Spouse and I had to choose a dentist from a list provided by our insurer. We chose a practice within walking distance of home and were assigned Dr. A., a WOMAN dentist!! The heavens were merciful that day. Her empathetic grimaces when I told her my history reassured me that she would be good to me and she has been. Most of my fillings are decades old and falling apart. I've also had teeth break. Three root canals, three crowns and numerous fillings later, my dread of dentists has been assuaged. Faster drills, numbing gel before a Novocain shot all help. Now Dr. A. and I are working well together to maintain my expensive smile. [Four years of heavy orthodontics and four more in a retainer weren't cheap!] Just my luck, Dr. A. has now opened her own practice in Adams Morgan. It's not as convenient as Foggy Bottom, but I'll make the effort to go there. My sanity is worth it!

5 comments:

Nan said...

That brings back memories... and not the good kind. Makes my teeth hurt just reading it, thanks a lot AP! :-P :-D

XO

dcpeg said...

Sorry, Nan! Sometime you'll have to tell me your dental details. Surely your Dad didn't set you up with the same demon we had as kids!

Alex said...

I've been going to the same dentist since I was 14 and luckily he and most of his assistants have had a light touch. I've had to go elsewhere a couple of times, enough to know what a huge difference that can make.

dcpeg said...

Alex: You are so lucky! I hope your dentist doesn't retire too early like my favorite MD did! I'd had him for about 20 years and hated to see him go. He DID, however, deserve a relaxed retirement. He worked so hard for his patients.

Pete said...

dcpeg, I too was taken to a bad dentist for treatment when I was a child. My appointments were excersizes in terror and pain. As an adult with severe phobia regarding dentistry, I was recommended to another dentist in the same town, by my sister. When I explained my phobia problem to the new dentist his response was, "Oh yes, we're familiar with Dr.X's dentistry. We have treated many of his patients and most are phobic or at the very least have serious fear issues".
Thank heaven for the many improvements in modern dental treatments. There aughta beeya law!!!