As I sat in the dentist’s office a couple of weeks ago waiting for the anesthetic to take hold, I worked on a crossword puzzle. The clue for one of the longer words in the puzzle was “Fear associated with drilling.” The answer was not apparent to me. I worked around the word, and soon determined that the end of the long answer was PHOBIA. That made sense. But the beginning? I still didn’t know.
The dentist arrived, ready to torture me. I didn’t get back to the puzzle until I was home. When I picked it up again, the answer leapt out at me—DENTOPHOBIA! I’d experienced it that morning. What a coincidence.
I have been quite lucky over the years with my teeth. Probably because I lived in Corvallis, Oregon, as a preschooler. Corvallis was an early adopter of fluoridated water. For the two-and-a-half year period that my family resided there, I imbibed fluoride every day. I never had any cavities as a child. As I went through grade school and high school, my friends complained frequently about having their cavities filled, and I was rather smug.
My first unpleasant experience at the dentist occurred when I was eight. A permanent tooth was growing in behind a baby tooth, and the dentist in Richland, Washington, where we lived then, decided he should pull the baby tooth. I wasn’t afraid, because the dentist had never hurt me before. I climbed in his chair and smiled, ready for anything, including the sucker he would give me after the procedure.
Then came the shot of novocaine.
The novocaine worked, and the rest of the tooth-pulling didn’t hurt. But I’d rarely in my young life been in as much pain as when that shot of novocaine went in. (Other than the broken collarbone I’ll write about sometime.)
After the tooth was removed, I got my sucker. Then my dad took me to the bookstore, where he bought me a Nancy Drew book. I usually only got to buy a book after report cards came out (assuming it was a good report, which mine always were). So I got an extra book that year, and lorded it over my brother, who didn’t get an extra Hardy Boys book.
I never had orthodontia in high school when most of my friends did. My teeth were crooked, partly because that baby tooth came out too late, and partly because my small mouth could not accommodate increasing numbers of larger permanent teeth. My parents took me to an orthodontist, but apparently he was the only conservative orthodontist in America.
“She has a good bite,” he told my mother. “No need for braces.”
How he knew I had a good bite I couldn’t figure out. I hadn’t bitten him. I was an adult before I figured out that “a good bite” meant the teeth meshed well together.
But I later regretted his conservative approach. When I moved to Kansas City, my dentist encouraged me to have my wisdom teeth taken out and then consult an orthodontist about braces.
“My grandmother didn’t have her wisdom teeth out until she was seventy-five,” I told him. “I’m going to try to beat her.” We’ve laughed at that over the years. So far I’ve won—I still have my wisdom teeth. After that one bad experience as an eight-year-old, I’ve done everything I can to avoid dental pain.
But some problems cannot be avoided as we age. In 1998, one of my teeth cracked, and I needed a crown. I feared the shot, but dental procedures had improved immensely in the intervening thirty-four years. I felt the shot, but I tolerated it reasonably well. Getting the crown fit wasn’t fun, but I can’t say it caused a lot of pain.
Then I got my first cavity in 2002, at age 46. That’s a pretty good record—the Corvallis fluoridation had provided me with over four decades of protection. Again I feared the shot. Again it wasn’t bad.
But the drilling! The vibrations sent chills down my spine.
So when I learned last month that I had to have that cavity refilled—it’s still my only cavity—I told the dentist (a new guy in the office, who didn’t know about my aversion to having my wisdom teeth out) that I was a wuss. I even told him about the shot when I was eight. I was whining, I know. Many people have had it far worse than I have.
This dentist was very careful when he gave me the shot. I hated it, because he put in very slowly. It didn’t hurt, but it took forever, and the anticipation was worse than if he’d done it quickly (though he told me it would have hurt more).
And then the drilling. More chills.
So, dentophobia? I have it. Fear associated with drilling? Yep. It’s not as inbred in me as my arachnophobia, but I have it.
What phobias do you have?