Relief. That’s what I feel every single time I walk out of the dentist’s office, secure in the knowledge that I don’t have to go back for four months. The thought that four months will go by quickly is briefly vanished from my mind. I know some of you only go ever six months or perhaps once a year, and I am jealous. But I am plagued with plaque, and I find it easiest to go along with more frequent cleanings for the reward of not having more extensive work done.
Since I know myself to have some phobias—acro- and claustrophobia, primarily—I would say that I have a dental phobia, mild but still there. I trace it back to my youth—and to my dad, who had lots of trouble with his teeth.
When I was just barely a teen, I developed a mouth full of cavities and spent lots of time in the dentist’s chair. Our dentist was a close family friend, so close that I knew him as Uncle Walt. I have no doubt he was skilled, because I think I carry some of his gold to this day. But he was a taciturn man, and as he worked he rarely spoke. Being young, I took taciturn for gruff and was slightly afraid. I also harbored the conviction that he liked my brother a lot better than me, and indeed he and John were close friends until Uncle Walt’s death.
Besides that, dental techniques have changed so much in the last sixty years that there’s no comparison. I do not remember Novocain at all, and the drill was a clumsy, loud, and slow thing. So dental appointments were long, quiet, and painful—and all too frequent.
Years later, as an adult, I discovered that Uncle Walt and his nurse/receptionist/wife, Aunt Kaffe, were delightful, charming people who indeed cared a lot about me and mine. They dined at my table in Texas one night when I was newly a single parent, and they were supportive and bright conversationalists. We laughed a lot. Maybe it was the wine. Maybe he didn’t have on his classic white jacket.
We all carry so-called baggage from our childhood, and dental fear is packed into my baggage. The hygienist I see these days is cheerful and talkative and makes me as comfortable as she can. She knows how impatient I get and that there is sort of a time limit on my patience in the chair. I am always relieved when she starts to polish, because I know the appointment is nearly over. So today when she started to polish, early in the appointment, she said, “Don’t get excited. I’m working in quadrants today.”
I was only there an hour, and it wasn’t painful or scary or anything, but I still left with that blessed feeling of relief.
Want to laugh about the dentist? Here’s a link to the classic sketch, “The Dentist,” starring Tim Conway, from the Carol Burnett Show. Have a good laugh. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IUSM4EKcRI