My dentist and his staff are great people. They’re highly skilled, have a great drill side manner, and do everything in their power to make my visit as pleasant as possible.
Still, “going to the dentist” is a terrifying experience for me.
I’ve had dental issues ever since I was a little kid. Without dentists, orthodontists, periodontists and other kinds of “dontists,” I would either be walking around with hillbilly teeth or no teeth at all.
As a child I had this one tooth that was basically a fang, and if a kind dentist – I think his name was Van Helsing – had not removed it and done some sort of dental voodoo, I would currently look like half a vampire.
All that being said, I was quite the little trooper up until my mid-teens. Thanks to nitrous oxide (laughing gas), I would get good and relaxed before any dental work was done, and the procedures were mostly run of the mill.
I might leave with a numb lip and sore gums, but it was no biggie.
Then came 1978.
For reasons I can’t fully recall – or perhaps simply don’t wish to – I found myself at a dentist who did not provide laughing gas.
I needed a filling, so he had to give me a shot of Novocain in the upper left side of my mouth. But early on in the drilling, I started experiencing some pretty intense pain because the shot didn’t completely deaden the area.
After a couple more shots kinda/sorta did the trick, he again started the process of drilling, but part of the tooth shattered. I’m not sure what happened after that, but I finally had a full understanding of how Dustin Hoffman felt in “Marathon Man.”
Any time I hear the phrase, “Is it safe?” I pee a little.
Because of my fear, I spent years completely avoiding the dentist, and that dental neglect naturally led to a lot of problems as an adult. Only until I had a mind-numbingly painful abscess did it reach the point where I looked like that mountain man in “Deliverance” and decided I had to get back in the chair.
Even then, I wanted assurances.
Do they provide nitrous? And if so, will there be plenty on hand when I arrive? And if so, is there a chance they can go ahead and dose me while I’m in the waiting room?
If not, do I qualify for medical marijuana? And if that isn’t an option, would it be cool to spark up a joint?
(The answer, by the way, was no on all counts).
The fear was irrational, but very real. And I was not ashamed to admit that having dental work done was one of the very last things I wanted to endure.
So when I finally relented and returned to the dentist’s office for some major work, I asked that they crank up the nitrous to 11. I sniffed as hard as I could because – and I’m being completely honest here – I wanted my ass high before anyone came at my mouth with a needle.
Despite the gas I still remember gripping the armrests as hard as I could and contorting my legs in such a way that I looked like I was either trying to score a goal via a bicycle kick, or acting out a scene from “Flashdance.”
But you know what?
I came through it fine.
I didn’t enjoy it because only a masochist would, but the doc and his team held my hand (figuratively) throughout the ordeal and did all they could to ease my angst.
And since that time – which was about 10 years ago – I’ve had everything from a root canal to a crown replacement, and every time they make a point to comment on what a big, brave boy I am.
So, no, I’ll never look forward to trips to the dentist, but I at least know the folks there are going to do a great job. And I’m very grateful to them.
They still won’t give me nitrous when they clean my teeth, though.
That kinda pisses me off.