A gleam would enter his eyes and a smile would spread across his face as he bore down to drill on my rotting cavity. The more I sniffled, the more he grinned. He was an evil Grinch who stole my trust in dental professionals. I was a child but I knew it was wrong for anyone to procure joy from causing pain.
I inherited my mother’s genetics for weak teeth. Despite frequent brushing and only a passing interest in sweets, I am cavity prone. My apprehension of the dentist is beyond normal. Little Shop of Horrors was not an exaggeration regarding a masochistic practitioner. I complained but my mother was not permitted to sit with me in the examination room and my father touted that our dentist never caused him problems. My father also has only had one cavity in his entire life.
Panic would ensue in the office. My heart would pound, feel nauseated, hands become cold and sweaty, and have an overproduction of saliva. I sometimes held my breath (not on purpose) and became woozy. My father forbade “laughing gas.” Dr. Nasty (not his real name) would push around the heavy gauge needle when administering Novocain and cause a lot of bleeding. I always left with the coppery taste of blood in my sore mouth and puffy red eyes from crying.
One time, the pain was so severe that I bit Dr. Nasty. I didn’t draw blood but he flew into a rage. After that incidence he placed a metal grid to keep my mouth open, forcing holders into my gums until they bled. Nasty didn’t want to get chomped on again. My gums would throb for days afterwards and my jaw would hurt from being opened for so long. My dad said that I deserved it for being disrespectful. My mom wasn’t allowed an opinion.
A few months after my milk teeth fell out and beautiful gleaming front teeth came in, an older student tripped me in the hallway after lunch. Instinctually, I threw my hands out to break the fall but didn’t drop my Flintstones lunch box. My perfect front teeth made contact with the metal and shattered. He laughed as I cried. Not only was I stunned and bruised but my teeth would never heal. When I got home I refused to see Nasty and demanded to visit a different tooth expert. We lived in a small town with few options.
The new dentist was kind and gentle. Dr. Nice (not his real name) knew I was scared and traumatized. My father was livid about the cost of replacing my teeth (even though he knocked out his front teeth as a child). I was too young for crowns so temporary caps of the 1970’s new-fangled resin were installed. Once in a while the cap would split or just drop off and be remounted or a new cap put in place. It has been over three decades and I still wear awkward looking caps. Someday, I’ll be able to display pretty permanent crowns (cost is about $1,200 each).
About a year after my accident, Dr. Nasty was accused by a former client for abusing children with pain. The Minnesota State Board of Dentistry had enough complaints that they barred him from treating clients under the age of eighteen. Within a year his license was completely revoked. He moved from town in disgrace. My father finally admitted that I might have been right.
I still encounter trepidation when I visit the dentist. My current dentist has an open office layout so I don’t feel trapped. Cleanings and examinations aren’t too traumatic. My anxiety does rise when I have to get a filling or crown work completed. Dr. Humor (not his real name) had to stop the procedure to remind me to breathe. He’s a pleasant and funny person but the suffering still exists in my memory. Unfortunately, during my last dental visit (I buy my own insurance) a couple cavities were discovered under an old metal filling. I now fear the bill more than the procedure.
Brush, floss, spit!
© 2012 Ima B. Musing