I am thirty-two years old and have never had a cavity.
Up until a few months ago, that is.
For a few weeks, I’d been having a dull, aching pain in my gums in the upper right side of my mouth. It would come and go, and a few Advil would take care of it, but my husband was insistent that I go to the dentist to see what was going on.
Easy advice to follow, unless you are, in the words of Cosmo Kramer, an “anti-dentite” like me.
Luckily my husband had referred me to his dentist several years ago, and while the thought of even getting my teeth cleaned is enough to set me on edge, I am convinced that this guy is the only practicing member of dentistry who is not actually a sadist.
So I went to see him for the first time in a few years – cringe – feeling optimistic and churning positive thoughts through my anxiety-riddled brain.
It had been an embarrassingly long time before my initial appointment with him back in 2009ish, but I was pleasantly surprised that I had zero cavities or issues to address then, so I was hoping that the pain I was feeling was the result of sensitive teeth or that pesky sharp piece of gluten-free veggie chip that had jammed itself into my gums a few weeks previous.
No such luck.
Cue the Death March
After a quick X-ray, the dentist cheerfully informed me that I had a cavity. Not only did I have a cavity, but it was in the root and in the gum.
“You’ll need to have a root canal,” he explained. “Or just get the tooth pulled. Considering it’s your very last molar in the back, I suggest getting it pulled. It’ll be easier, cheaper, and less painful. Plus no one will ever see it.”
I actually laughed. Leave it to me, someone who goes without a single cavity for thirty-two years to have their first one be a doozy.
The decision to have the tooth pulled was pretty easy. My husband had experienced several root canals, and I had no desire to go through that and all of the after-effects that could come with a crown, etc.
My dentist gave me referrals to several dental surgeons in the area whose expertise was to extract the teeth of those too scared to go through the procedure on mere Novocain. I was convinced that I’d have to be sedated for the procedure, and resigned myself to making an appointment to be knocked out so my pesky tooth could be pulled.
Unfortunately I quickly learned that getting “knocked out” wasn’t as simple as just making the appointment. My insurance wouldn’t cover sedation for a simple procedure, and paying out of pocket was going to cost me at least $200. After a frantic night on Facebook looking for recommendations and people to calm my fears, I realized that I was going to have to do this with only laughing gas and no sedation.
The next day at work I called the surgeon that my dentist and several Facebook friends had recommended.
“Dr. B is usually booked for two months solid,” The woman on the phone informed me. “But luckily for you, we do have an opening tomorrow.”
Yeah, lucky me, I thought sarcastically. I made the appointment reluctantly, unable to believe that twenty-four hours ago I had had a perfect dental record. Now I had an appointment for sheer torture and agonizing pain the very next day.
Over the next few hours, I endured jokes from my co-workers about my fear and anxiety. Most of them couldn’t believe I had never had a cavity. Or stiches. Or a broken bone. Or surgery.
I kept asking what it was going to be like and if I’d be able to return to work or eat and how long I’d be out of commission. But no one could really tell me.
“Everyone’s different,” was the standard response.
Well, I was very different.
When I got home, I broke down. I spent nearly an hour in my bathroom vomiting and hyperventilating. I was so sure that something was going to go wrong. What if I was allergic to Novocain? What if my blood wouldn’t clot? What if the pain was too much to bear? What if I got a dry socket? What if I got an infection and it went to my brain? (I’d read an article back in, like, 1996 about a teenager who got her wisdom teeth pulled and the wounds got infected. She never sought treatment and the infection went into her jaw and eventually into her skull and she died. So of course this terrifying story has stayed with me since then).
No words from my family, friends, or husband would help. I was quite literally hysterical. When I went to bed that night, I tossed and turned for two hours before finally falling asleep. Then I randomly woke up at 4am and couldn’t go back to sleep.
I stumbled into work the next day in a daze and somehow managed to work for two hours before forcing myself to drive to the dentist.
In the waiting room, I was shaking like a leaf. I could barely hold the pen to fill out the paperwork and sign my name. I just wanted someone to be there with my and hold my hand. Those thoughts made me feel like a big baby, and on top of all my fear and anxiety, I started berating myself for my feelings. So goes the cycle of anxiety.
When they called my name, I almost burst into tears. I honestly don’t know how I gathered the strength to walk across the waiting room.
When I sat down in the chair, the hygienists asked casually how I was and draped the paper bib over my chest. I was shaking and trying concentrating so hard on not crying or passing out that I couldn’t answer their basic questions.
“I’m sorry,” I finally managed. “I’ve never had anything like this done and I’m freaking out.”
“It’s really no big deal,” they replied, echoing the words of everyone I’d spoken to over the last forty-eight hours. “Dr. B is really good.”
Yeah, right, I thought to myself. There’s no way this could be anything but horrific.
The Worst Part
Except it wasn’t. Horrific, that is.
The worst part was my anxiety and my fear. The worst part was having people tell me that my emotions were wrong. The worst part was people kicking me when I was down and making fun of me for being afraid.
The time between when I laid back in the chair and the time I exited the office was about fifteen minutes. The only thing I felt was a slight pinch when being shot up with Novocain (and I do mean a slight pinch. I’m pretty sure getting my ears pierced hurt worse) and some pressure that felt like someone’s hands pushing on my upper teeth. Afterwards, the most annoying thing was the bloody gauze in my mouth, but I stopped bleeding within a couple of hours. I returned to my full time job, worked my second job, and even stayed awake for (most of) the Penguins’ double-overtime playoff game against the Ottawa Senators, which they won. I never even took my prescription pain killers! A couple of Ibuprofen got me through the next few days, and before I knew it, I was eating regularly again.
Am I still afraid of the dentist? Eh. I am definitely not skipping those regular cleanings anymore. And while I’m not looking forward to them, I’m not terrified like I used to be. If I ever need a tooth pulled again (or God forbid my wisdom teeth), I’ll probably still be a nervous wreck, but hopefully not as much as I was for this first go-round.