Thursday, May 08, 2008

From the dentist's chair...

Sort of as the next step after getting my braces off, I went to my regular dentist's office today to get my teeth cleaned.

So what can I say. It wasn't fun. It also wasn't a repeat of the tears-in-my-ears
drool-down-my-chin experience I had last time -- which was almost a year and a half, and yes, I do know I shouldn't go that long, thankyouverymuch.

It never fails: when I walk into any dentist's office -- save that of my orthodontist,weirdly enough -- I am that nine-year-old girl who sat trying with all my heart to focus on the joy of brand new shoes on my feet rather than on the high whirrrrr of the drill and the pain in my mouth and the tears in my eyes while the old dentist drilled and filled a tooth sans novocaine. (It didn't work well.)

And despite the fact that I haven't ever had work done without novocaine since, I feel that fear and dread and pain every single time I go. When I know and like the dentist, I can stifle most of it, although there are always a few moments of feeling sorry for myself.

I went to an endodontist in Indianapolis -- a father-son duo, actually -- for a crown, and had the son do the first root canal. He was kind and very good, and my fear was greatly calmed. Unfortunately, I needed another one a few years later, and the son was on vacation, so I ended up with the father, who proceeded to shame and mock me because I was so apprehensive, and I was too intimidated to get up and walk out. So I had it done by him -- and it wasn't painful: he did use lots of novocaine -- but I was a wreck emotionally, and never went back, and told my dentist to never recommend him to anyone.

Another dentist in Birmingham, Ala., was extremely kind and gentle with me when I began blubbering in the chair before he'd so much as taken a look at my mouth. He and his wonderful staff -- and his nurse was absolutely the best I've ever seen -- did fairly extensive work on me that summer, right before I left there for California. They used nitrous oxide, putting me at ease, but not out of it. I would have been okay, I think, even without it, but it sure helped. I got sick one time after a long session with it, but we were never sure if it was the nitrous or if I had a stomach bug -- I had to ask my ex to come pick me up, and I tossed my cookies several times. (The reason I remember it so well is that later that evening, my ex woke me to tell me that Princess Di had been killed...) That, and the fact that I lived on Wendy's Frosties for the next three days because I was swollen and sore.

I've actually had good dental care throughout my life, and have been personal friends with a couple of my dentists, so I'm not anti-dentist. I'm just afraid of the drill and the noise and the potential pain, and it all goes back to when I was a kid. No matter that I know it won't hurt, that I know they will be kind and caring. I'm still always, inevitably, horribly apprehensive.

Getting teeth cleaned has turned into a far more rigorous process than it used to be, however. Today, for instance, I had to gargle for 30 seconds with a prescription mouthwash before I even opened my mouth. Okay.....I guess I understand that.

The hygenist used topical anesthetic on my gums to help ease the discomfort, and began with an ultrasonic machine on low, which is efficient at flushing out pockets of bacteria around the gums.

Did I mention that for some time now I take the Advil-Tylenol combo an hour before to help ease pain, and usually will also take a low dose of an anti=anxiety medication to help that? Uh huh. And I bring music, preferably fairly loud and lively. Today it was Gustav Holst's The Planets, but I also bring Grateful Dead, Little Feat, and usually some choral music from John Rutter. Symphonies tend to work well too.

So I'm laying back, sunglasses covering my eyes, trying to relax into the medication and the music, and it's working pretty well. And then she hits a pocket. Oh, I know it's there. It's where everything gets stuck and I have to dig it out with floss or a proxi-brush, and it is like picking at a fresh scab.

Well, she dug a new basement on that molar today, and my knuckles were white on the CD player, but I just kept breathing and listening to Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity. It has a lovely section in it that is the basis for the English hymn "I Vow to Thee My Country," which I've written of before, but I never tire of hearing it. It helped.

Only two self-pitying tears escaped into my ears; no drool at all this time. I am grateful. It's been worse. (and all the braces cement is completely off now -- yay!)

I am grateful that my very kind and gentle dentist pronounced my teeth to be in pretty good shape after three years in braces and more than a year since cleaning. I am grateful for my wonderful Oral B electric toothbrush and the great flossing heads, and for those teensy little proxibrushes that clean between teeth and that were a godsend when I was in braces.

I'm grateful for all the work of all the dentists I've had (well, maybe not the cranky endodontist) that have helped me keep my teeth in good shape for all these years.

And I'm really grateful that the next time I am scheduled to sit in a dentist's chair is six months from now when I go back and get it done all over again. It'll be November, cold, rainy. That suits me fine.

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