My husband has been having some issues with a tooth this past month (cracked filling, followed by an infection, then a root canal, and finally a loss of said cracked filling) so I’ve had teeth on the brain.
He tries to tell me about his tooth pain, and I try to be sympathetic, but honestly hearing about teeth and dentists just makes me want to stick my fingers in my ears and yell “la-la-la-la I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
As a result of all this upset, I’ve been thinking a lot about dentists. My first memories of the dental profession are not happy ones. My dentist was named Dr. Saunders; she was an icy blonde woman with all the warmth and sensitivity of a great white shark, and about as many scruples. She hired humourless hygienists with no patience or care, and turned a deaf ear to any complaints from her
victims patients. The merest routine cleaning hurt like a bitch, and every checkup she would announce that I had “three pinhole cavities” that required filling. I never once had pain from these cavities – more on that in a minute.
When I was six, my two front bottom permanent teeth started coming in before the baby teeth were loose. Dr. Saunders announced that four baby teeth would need to be pulled in order to make room for them. She also said that freezing wouldn’t be necessary, because baby teeth don’t have deep roots.
Without going into too much detail, it turned out that one of those teeth did have a root – quite a long one. And despite the fact that my little six year old body was coming right up out of the chair, and that I was screaming in agony, she yanked that sucker out anyway. She also admonished me for “making a fuss”.
Skip ahead three years, and I got knocked off my bike one day. Landed on my face. Broke my top front permanent tooth right in half, exposing the nerve. If you’ve never done that, I can assure you that the only pain I’ve experienced that was worse was during labour. Every breath in sent an ice-cold spike of agony up through my head. The sharp edge of the tooth was cutting my lip. I ran home, sobbing, and my mom said “well, that’s going to need a dentist.”
I sat down in her rocking chair and announced firmly that no, I would learn to live with it. I was so terrified of our dentist – and imagining her touching that tooth – that I was honestly prepared to just walk around like that forever rather than put myself through that.
Eventually my mom found another dentist who was willing and able to take me in. His gentleness was a revelation. The treatment took my pain away, instead of making things hurt worse. Needless to say, we never went back to Dr. Saunders (and I never had another cavity, from that day to this – SUSPICIONS, I HAS THEM) and I still have a pretty significant fear of dentists.
So, what’s my point, aside from the catharsis of sharing my childhood trauma with ya’ll? It’s this – can you imagine if a dentist behaved like that today?
Dentists now offer all kinds of extra services to help their patients be comfortable. Noise-cancelling headphones, TVs in the ceiling, soft music, leather examining chairs. I’ve seen dentist offices that provide stuffies for children to cuddle and weighted blankets. Fluoride treatments can now be painted on rather than rammed into your mouth via styrofoam trays and sickly-sweet bubble-gum flavoured gel.
How was your childhood dentist? How different is the one you have today?