this won’t hurt a bit

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?


4 thoughts on “this won’t hurt a bit

  1. The Styrofoam trays! Those were the worst. Also, getting x-rays, when you had to bite down on those hard plastic things that would cut into your mouth? WORST. My kids have it so easy – they brush on the fluoride, they go to a happy pediatric dentist with super cheery young hygienists, they get a crappy prize AND two stickers. I don’t mind the dentist too much, but I remember getting sealants and fillings as a child, gross.


  2. I have been so lucky. I had the same dentist from the time I was about 4 until I left home and, as a matter of fact, I went for a cleaning on a visit back from Texas in my late 20s.

    I am sure my positive experiences are why I actually like visiting the dentist and helped me to choose the right dentists for me and my family through the years. True story: My son sat on me while our dentist in Texas cleaned my teeth – my DENTIST cleaned my teeth in Texas. She was amazing and she was so excited that DS would stay with me and have a positive experience too. So I have had a series of experiences like that. Tempered with kindness… again and again… 😀

    My DH (and his siblings) has the horror stories (before me!!) and they are awful. Similar to yours. Bad. Criminal really.

    I am so sorry you had this experience. The trauma lasts. 😦


  3. my childhood dentist was lovely. and good thing because I was always there getting cavities filled. it’s the dentist I had as adult that has made me into a snivelling pill of goo. now I can’t go to a dentist unless they offer the nitrous gas. I found one that is lovely and gentle and doesn’t mind when I sit in her chair and cry for the whole appointment. getting older sucks.


  4. My childhood dentist was lovely too – it’s really bugging me that I can’t remember his name. Dr. Dixon, maybe? And yet I still have extreme dentist phobia. I hate having my face touched, I hate being reclined and basically the whole experience feels like punishment. I have a really good hygienist and dentist now, so it’s better, but it still sucks. I did have one hygienist when Angus was young and scared tell him not to cry because he would scare the other kids waiting. I said fuck that, and made sure he never got her again.


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