I’m 52 and I can barely type today because my hands are all stiff from white knuckling at the dentist. It’s crazy I know but regardless of what I’m having done at the dentist.. I go into anxiety mode. Not that I get to a dentist often. I wish I could but just can’t afford it. I’m going through the public hospital to get my teeth fixed as I don’t have medical insurance. I’ve been on a waiting list for over 5 years and finally reached the top. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I feel very lucky to be getting my teeth fixed through the public health system. I just wish that dental work was considered a health necessity and was able to be claimed back through medicare. Perhaps then our waiting lists for dental work wouldn’t be blowing out to 5+ years. We might have less major work to be done through being able to afford preventative work. It makes complete sense to me.
But back to my dental phobia.. Not only do false teeth cause me great anxiety, but so do dentists. I get where both these anxieties come from. I’ve explained how I feel about false teeth in The saga of the false teeth but the dentist, now that’s another story altogether.
My parent’s raised 12 kids.. Dad only worked as a factory laborer and mum was a stay at home mum so there was not lots of money to spare. It was also a time when we didn’t get a dental van visiting schools. We only went to the dentist if there was a need to go. We weren’t nagged to brush our teeth as I nagged my kids. If we didn’t do it, noone checked. As a small child, you really can’t comprehend how important your teeth really are, so I often skipped brushing when I was very young. When I hit teen years, peer pressure called for shiny white teeth, so I started my regime then. I don’t blame my parents for any of this. Times were hard and they were vastly different from how things are today.
I had never been to a dentist until I was nearly 13 years old. When I finally told my mum that I had a toothache (I’d been keeping it a secret for ages as I’d heard so much horrible stuff about dentists), my tooth was already badly decayed. It was a back tooth so couldn’t be seen unless I showed someone. I don’t know if Mum and Dad chose the family dentist due to price, but I’m guessing that was the reason. I”m sure he was cheap.. and he was certainly nasty. For a kid with a preconceived notion about dentists anyway, he certainly lived up to every horror story I had ever heard.
I’m sure anyone who grew up in my home town of Geelong would have heard horror stories about Dr O’Brien. We also had a dentist by the name of Dr Blood. Unfortunate name but I believe he was a nice enough dentist. Dr O’Brien however was the typical stereotype of the evil dentist. First time I climbed those stairs to go to his office, smelling that horrible dentist smell the whole way, I was petrified. The noise of the drill was enough to make me want to run away, screaming but I was a pretty timid kid back then, scared of most things, so I kept walking, too scared to continue but too scared to run away.
When I got in to see him, he looked me up and down and gruffly told me to sit down in the chair. He proceeded to inspect my tooth, the whole time telling me how he was sick of people who didn’t look after their teeth, all the while, breathing his stale tobacco breath in my face. The main thing I can remember about him physically was his gnarly, pointy, nicotine stained hands and his yellow (from too many years of cigarettes) teeth. He then, without telling me what he was going to do, started to yank my mouth open, and came at me with a needle. I was terrified. As soon as the needle went into my gum, I started crying.
That was enough to send him over the edge. He yelled at me the whole time, screaming that if I looked after my teeth he wouldn’t have to be pulling it out. Wait… what??? he was going to pull my tooth out?? Seems so. I know at one stage I must have gone deathly white as next thing I knew, he was swearing and had tipped the chair so far back that I was almost upside down. I guess he thought I’d passed out because my eyes were firmly shut the whole time. I don’t know how long the whole procedure took, but I know that I cried the whole time and he screamed at me the whole time. Now, if that was my kid in the dentist chair, I wouldn’t have left their side, but Mum had taken me there, then went to pay some bills while I was being seen. I know if she’d realised how awful this man was, she wouldn’t have left but he always acted nicely to parents. It was kids he obviously hated.
By the time I walked out of there, I hated dentists. I not just hated them, I was terrified of them. I never wanted to see another dentist as long as I lived. I never told mum and the fact that I was crying didn’t seem untoward to her as I was a bit of a cry baby at the best of times. I had to go back a year or so later and got exactly the same treatment from this monster. I was still too scared to say anything to anyone so I sat through the same tirade of abuse from this rough, mean, smelly breathed monster. I had lost 3 of my back teeth through him and didn’t intend ever going back.
When I got married at 21, we shifted to Bendigo and had health insurance, so knowing that my teeth were desperately in need of being fixed, I bit the bullet and made an appointment. This man, realising how terrified I was, sat me down and calmly explained what he was going to do and how he would do it. I still started crying as soon as the needle hit my gum but he just spoke softly to me the whole time. I couldn’t believe any dentist could be so kind. He was not in keeping with my image of dentists. Next time I went to him, he asked if I had always cried when the needle hit my gum and of course, I said yes. He used a different anaesthetic and voila… no tears..He said it was a typical reaction for that particular drug. I don’t know if he was telling the truth or not.. maybe it was just a placebo affect but it worked.
Regardless of how good he was, it was not enough to recover from the deep rooted (pardon the pun) anxiety and fear caused by the butcher O’Brien. Eventually, as my ex started drifting in and out of work, and three children were the highest priority, health insurance went by the by.. as did my ability to afford dental work. The kids saw a dentist.. The ex saw a dentist.. I couldn’t afford to.
So over the years, I have only been to see a dentist when necessary, rather than BEFORE problems start. Nowadays, I have so much dental work to be done and have a few gaps in my mouth where white shiny teeth once stood. I’d love nothing more than to have titanium implants inserted and more shiny white teeth built around them.. I ‘d love to open my mouth and not be self concious.. I’d love to have a bright shiny smile which I was happy to display to the world. I’m lucky I started with such good strong teeth in the first place and that my front teeth have been relatively unscathed by the ravages of time and lack of dental visits.
But for now, I’ll continue going to these few visits I have and at least get fixed what I can. The lovely Indian doctor is kind and considerate and I think I still go very white with my eyes closed as he asks me constantly if I’m okay.. I mumble a vague yes, all the while thinking.. oh for goodness sake, don’t talk to me… I’m trying to pretend I’m anywhere but here having root canal work done. But he is gentle and kind and doesn’t yell at me for my white knuckled, stiff bodied demeanour.
I know I should be past the fear and terror caused by one nasty, awful, smelly breathed tyrant, but I’m not. The thought of sitting in that chair makes me want to run away like that young girl all those years ago. Thank goodness dental practises have changed and improved over the years. Noone likes going to the dentist but it’s not the place of fear and loathing as it once was. Anyway, I’m off into the city now for a special event that I’ll tell you all about tomorrow.. so I hope the numbness wears off so I can actually eat and drink something without gnawing the inside of my lip without realising it…
Happy brushing.. Livvy..