Phony Phobia?

I have pretty decent teeth (thankfully), but have had a few cavities in my lifetime.  I don’t have any strong memories of my early fillings, but I seem to recall that my childhood dentist would usually give me nitrous oxide if he had to do anything more than a cleaning (Mom, please help set the record straight if I’m remembering this incorrectly).

I KNOW the orthodontist gave me gas when I had all four wisdom teeth pulled at 15.  In fact, with the combination of the gas and the topical anesthetic, I slept through the entire process.  I was still groggy enough after the procedure that the ortho told Mom to keep an eye on me during the next several hours, because he was worried that I might fall into the “eternal sleep.”  So the whole drive home, my mom would occasionally yell “ALYX, WAKE UP!” if I began to nod off.

Ever since that procedure, I’ve definitely required nitrous oxide if I need a filling or more.  In fact, I’ve made it a point to ask any potential new dentist whether or not they administer gas for their patients, and will move down the list if they tell me they don’t.

Except that I recently went to a new dentist and failed to ask that before scheduling my appointment.  I did ask a co-worker who used them, and she told me they did, but it’s my fault for not corroborating that with the dentist myself.  Anyway, when I got there, it came up and the front desk staff apologized and told me they didn’t, in fact, use nitrous.  This caused me a few minutes of dilemma, wondering whether or not I should go through with the exam and deal with changing dentists if I needed anything more than a cleaning.

While I was trying to decide this, the lady behind the desk asked me about other possible remedies for “dental phobia.”  This phrase stuck in my craw for a while, and I’ve been wondering why.  Was I bothered by the fact that someone thought of my need for being gassed as a phobia, or was it because I wouldn’t term it quite that way?

See, to me, it’s not that I’m afraid of going to the dentist.  I don’t put off making my appointments when I have insurance.  And if I need a filling (or two root canals, ugh!), I schedule them right away.  But even when I sit in the chair for a basic cleaning, I find myself clasping my hands tightly until I eventually notice the tension and consciously release it.

I personally think it has more to do with the fact that I’m sitting there, mouth open wider than normal, with someone rooting around inside with a sharp instrument.  I admit, wholeheartedly, that I’m a baby when it comes to pain; or what’s more nicely known as having a low-tolerance for it.  So when the dentist barely scrapes my gums with the sharp instrument, it HURTS!  It’s not a momentary discomfort, but a serious jolt to my nervous system.  When you start drilling in there, and I can hear that drill grinding away at my enamel, it’s even worse.  I don’t care how much Novocaine they administer, I still feel pressure when they go to work on my teeth. Yes, I’m that sensitive.

So, yes, I’d much prefer to sleep through those procedures, or at least be relaxed enough that my mind only vaguely notices what’s going on.  I don’t care that my insurance doesn’t cover gas, I’m willing to pay the $75 myself in order to not feel so exhausted after leaving a dental office, because I was so tense the whole time.

As for the other remedies for “Dental Phobia” that she suggested?  I’ve tried one and it didn’t work too well.  I had a dentist who used gas when I first started with her, but removed it from her practice after a couple of years.  She instead gave me a Valium and told me to take it an hour before I came in for my filling.  That was not a fun day for me.  I lived in Chicago at the time, so I had to take the bus to her office, and being in a moving vehicle while doped up on Valium caused me to feel like that scene in Look Who’s Talking, where Kirstie Alley has taken the epidural and the baby (still in the womb) sees several versions of his hand floating past his eyes.  PLUS, by the time she started the procedure, the drug had worn off, so I was NOT relaxed at all!  (I’ll save my horror story of the one root canal where I let the dentist bully me into not having gas for another day)

So, while I wouldn’t consider my “condition” a phobia, I guess I can understand why some would; especially if they haven’t heard my entire dental history, or don’t know how super-sensitive I am.  But that’s okay.  That’s why I need to remember to always ask before agreeing to go to a new dentist . . . and to make sure that I brush and floss regularly, so I don’t have to get fillings ever again.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dolly Chamberlin
    Apr 25, 2014 @ 06:05:33

    You are remembering accurately. I still have a similar apprehension when going to the dentist. When they do more than cleaning on me, they have to give me a lot of Novocaine, or something stronger. I never experienced the laughing gas, but I know it worked well for you. LOVES :}

    Reply

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