Friday, April 12, 2019

At the Dentist

 I recently went to the dentist for a checkup. I've been going every six months for the past couple of years, something I never used to do but a) they have a really fun hygienist who makes it almost worthwhile and b) I'm getting old and decrepit and more aware of my own mortality. It used to be that I'd go to the dentist and be a bit more audible in my feelings of disdain.  This is a place where I think I actually, honest-to-goodness regress a little bit. It's my childhood dentist (probably a mistake) and I just really hated it. I had a lot of cavities as a kid and the shots and drilling were tear-inducingly painful and the gas made me feel so out of it and it took me a while before I even learned I had the option of having it or not. So I finally opted out probably as a teen which made it marginally better.

These days I try to mostly remain silent. Go to my zen place.  When I went a couple of weeks ago I learned that my favorite hygienist, I think her name was Judy, was no longer working there. I was in the middle of debating whether or not to just cut and run when I found myself already in the chair and reclining so I thought I'd better just go on and get it over with.  The new hygienist was nice but quiet and I like someone interesting, entertaining, and engaging. Chatty. I like a chatty hygienist. Someone who will distract me from the horribleness and who has that special gift of being able to carry on a conversation basically one-sided but make you feel like you're an equal part of it as well.  Judy had that.  Judy was good at that. Sniff. I miss her so much.

When I was lying back, this new hygienist (this is now my least favorite word to type) kept asking me if the head rest or whatever was ok and she'd ask me if I was comfortable. Like she went on and on. I said something like, "what? it's fine, whatever you need to do your thing...."  Like, c'mon, let's get the show on the road. She said, "I just want you to be comfortable!" and I said, "Well, I'm at the dentist, so...."

She then did her thing, dentist did his thing, and I learned I have a cavity, the first in a couple of years. RATS.  That old feeling of doom and dread filled me and I felt compelled to take a selfie to depict my feelings: 


I scheduled to come in the following week to fill in my one measly cavity. That day came and so did I, dutifully, back to the ol' dentist chair with questionable head rest (as if anyone even gives the thing one tiny thought), and remained mostly quiet for the duration of the procedure.  Before he began, Dr. Dentist asked me if I wanted the nitrous but before I could answer, he caught himself and said, "oh wait, no, you don't like it, do you?"  As if it struck him as a bit unusual. I said, "oh, no, i don't. "  I think someone even asked me why and I said, "Oh, I hate the feeling I get when I'm on it. That out-of-body feeling. And, well, it's already a bit of a nightmare, so...I don't really want to add to it..."  trailing off.  Just very straightforward. Nobody laughed, but it made me laugh, my attempts to remain stoic and enduring even though the hate is very much alive. It was my plain honest answer. I also think i lose whatever filter I have in real life when I'm at the dentist, truth be told. 

The dentist was speedy and i even thanked him when it was all over, because I am actually grateful that there are weirdos in the world who choose this kind of profession. Someone's got to do it, right?  So we should probably be thanking them even though we all hate them. Like, just because I want to punch you doesn't mean I'm not grateful. It's a weird relationship. 

Today I took Julian to the dentist.  After he brushed and flossed, I watched him give his last will and testament "to my cats-- all of my possessions. To my mom, all my love."  (sucker, Dad) Watching Julian at the dentist these past few years has been interesting, entertaining, and downright remarkable.  Also a bit heartbreaking. What it is is me seeing myself, as a child, in the dentist's chair.  And I swear to you I worked SO HARD at not poisoning his tender mind, knowing my extreme bias and past trauma. Like, why would I? Why would I make it worse than it already is? But alas, through the years with each passing visit, he discovered the nightmare all on his own and watching him is hard because I feel the same way. Still. All of the things he hates, I hate too.  I see him reject watching a movie because that would only add to the out of it, nightmare feeling.  I see him wanting to know exactly what they'll do so it's not some big mystery.  I see him vent ALL his feelings when they ask questions.  "How you doin', Julian?"  "Not good."  "No? Why not?"  I'm always amused when they seem to forget what going to the dentist is like.  Because I'm HERE, dummy.  Ok, maybe dummy is harsh.   Once again, I am silent for almost the entire stay. I sit nearby to observe and support when needed.  I laugh also when called upon, because he is still funny.  But it's mostly just super sad because kid has serious anxiety about it. I see him breathing hard and fast in the waiting room.  He's pale.  Like, it's so real for him. And for me.  It does break my heart.

Judy once told me the reason she became a hygienist was to face her fear, which is the only reason that makes sense to me.  She hated it so bad when she was young-- like, really bad-- so she decided to try to make it good for other people.  What an angel.  Sniff.  The hygienist today was young and also (unsolicited, i might add--it's like they feel like they have to explain themselves. And they kind of do) explained why he was a dental assistant. He was really interested in orthodontics so he's getting his foot in the door, learning the ropes, making connections this way.  Also makes sense, I guess.  But I am amused at listening to people in these professions like it's a confessional.

But there is a lot of trauma involved. The last time we were there, Julian freaked and would NOT let Dr. Dentist check his teeth and scrape off the gunk.  He cried and cried was just a total mess. I got to the point of openly bribing him with all sorts of things which I am not inclined to do, all to no avail, of course.  This was not about getting things.  It was truly a nightmare and it lasted foreeeeveerrrrr.  Finally he allowed the dentist to scrape if he could lay his head in my lap and i hold him. Aaahhh so traumatic. *shudder*

But this time was so much better.  I prepped him the best I could and told him, "I can't tell you it's fine. I can't tell you it's no big deal. It doesn't FEEL like it's no big deal. And it doesn't feel fine. I know this.  But I do know it will be over and that you can endure it.  And it's worth it if it prevents you from having problems later. This is all stuff I tell myself EVERY TIME I GO."   I also reminded him that immediately after letting the doc scrape his teeth and finish up, he was elated and said, "I could do that all day!"  This was helpful to remember. I also told him under no circumstances are we doing that EVER AGAIN, what happened last time. It just wasn't an option.  He understood, in spite of his feelings, bless him. Happily, he had no cavities and felt the sweet bliss only the weight of having the dentist visit over + having no cavities can bring. I'm feeling it too, vicariously. That feeling lasts for days for me.  Days.

Some time ago, I came across this article written by a dentist and initially felt the need to personally defend myself and the rest of the human race. But, I will do my best to be fair with my honesty, understanding that when all is said and done, going to the dentist is a good thing to do. It's still the unbelievably worst.  Also, I know there are people out there who have never had a problem with the dentist. It's been easy, they've never been in pain, what's the problem? I do not understand this.   In fact, I had a friend recently who had some dental issues, maybe cavities when she's never had one in her life {straight eyes and mouth emoji} and she told me she GETS IT NOW.  She gets the trauma.  Yeah, you do.  Of course you do. You think people are making this up? Ugh.

So, the article. I will be posting the article here with my rebuttals, but if you'd like to, click here to read.

Ten Reasons Your Dentist Probably Hates You Too

#10 Bad manners

The first thing you say when you sit down in my chair is, “I hate the dentist.” Really?!? Did your parents teach you any manners? Did they ever teach you that it is impolite to tell someone you hate them the moment you greet them? What I really want to say back is, “aww, I hate you too.”

Please do. Since you don't seem to understand, I'll explain: What that is is someone in the throes of fear and anxiety.  I'm sorry if I forget my manners. I'm about to be the most vulnerable a person can be. Letting you inside my mouth. Well, upon second thought, second most vulnerable.

#9 Oral Hygiene Basics

You come to your appointment, and it’s obvious you haven’t brushed your teeth in days. I’ve had some people with great hygiene come in and apologize because they’ve just eaten lunch and couldn’t brush. This is not what I’m talking about. I mean food and thick plaque everywhere. After 10 years of seeing blood and rotten teeth and some really nasty things, this is still the 1 thing that makes me dry heave. You know when you come to us that we have to be in your mouth. Would you clean your home before having company? Additionally, I have spent hours literally bending over backwards repairing your teeth. Could you at least pretend that you are caring for the work that I have struggled to complete for you?

That is really gross. I always brush and floss before I come, mostly to avoid any dental shaming but also because I'm trying to be considerate and make my stay as short as possible.  That said, YOU CHOSE THIS PROFESSION. It's so inherently disgusting, I think it can universally be agreed upon. Soooo... crapping on your own doorstep? as the old saying goes.

#8 Billing

After we have spent hours of meticulously repairing your teeth, you complain about the bill. Would you walk out of the grocery store with a bag full of groceries and expect not to pay? I’ve just helped you to continue to smile and eat comfortably, two pretty valuable things that help your quality of life.

I have no real comments about this. Everything costs.  And lots of things cost big. Dentist is no different and I really do want to smile and eat comfortably. But also, i have complained about the grocery bill before like, "whoa! Whoopsy daisy." Because... I'm a human? And humans complain about bills?

#7 “Urgencies”

I tell you that you have a cavity and you need a filling, and you wait months or even years to get the necessary work done. Eventually the tooth starts hurting. Two weeks of pain go by, and you call me on a Saturday night while I am at dinner with friends because your tooth that needed a filling a year ago and that started hurting 2 weeks ago is suddenly an emergency.

I'm disturbed by how this dentist clearly doesn't believe these patients and thinks they're solely trying to ruin her dinner. This is madness.  Yes, they should have filled the cavity a long time ago buuuut pain is pain, man.  And yeah, that is just good clean denial.  Again, people who have DPTSD don't think very rationally. Also, don't think I don't know dentists charge whatever they want when they sense it's an emergency. This happened to a friend of mine and really, it was an exorbitant amount just to unlock the doors.

#6 Complaining

You come to me so I can help you, but you make it hard for me to do a good job. You wince and make faces when it’s not hurting. Oh, really? Please tell me more about what I'm feeling. The idea that I’m hurting you makes me just as uncomfortable and stressed as you are. Really? Just as comfortable and stressed? Yes, let's compare. Also, again, you chose this. If it hurts, please tell me, and I can help you with that. But if it’s because you don’t like the whole experience, you are only causing me to work in undesirable conditions, making it harder to do my best. And when you push your tongue in the way, or you don’t open wide enough, it makes it physically impossible to get my work done. Don’t you want it to be easy for me to do the best job for you?

Wow. Ok. Again, I am surprised I have to explain this, but the person is not consciously doing those things. "Here's what I'll do, I'll sabotage the dentist! I'll put my tongue in the way!"  No. It's just so awful, it's a natural reaction. Understand this. Forget not your sensitivity, your patience. Also, as a child, my dentist was always surprised by how much "pain" i was "allegedly" "in." But I think he believed me in the end. But I think i just had a low threshold for the tooth pain or something, I don't know.  I was always like, yeah, whattaya think?? I'm not making this up. But maybe it was different for other people.  That would certainly make me feel less wimpy. Or this was just in the old days and he was still trying to figure out proper medication doses.

#5 Blaming someone else

You call and say, “my tooth didn’t hurt before you worked on it.” You came to me with a cavity. I did not put it there. You did. I am simply fixing a rotten hole that was in your tooth. To do so, I must use a tiny drill to cut the rot out of your tooth. If I took a drill, cut a hole in your femur bone, and then filled it in with a foreign material, don’t you think it might be sore for a while? Same concept.

I will blame dentists for all of my bodily pains/life problems.  I feel completely fine doing so.

#4 Those @#$% X-rays

When we try to take an x-ray, you won’t bite down on it. We have to do this to see what is going on with your tooth. Without knowing the problem, we can’t properly treat you. I know, in some cases some people really can’t do it; but some people could and won’t just suck it up for 15 seconds. I’ve had x-rays too, and they hurt and dig into my gums, but I just do it.

Wow, I'm really starting to have real hate feelings for this person, instead of general hate I hold for all dentists.   Listen- nobody explains anything to you when you go to the dentist. They don't know how much pressure to use. As a child they tell you all sorts of silly nonsense (or not-- my dentist told me nothing, ever. They all just began) and as you grow up it's all one big mystery. I didn't go often enough during my 20's to really figure anything out and there was just so much pain and trauma there.  I decree that before each visit, each patient should be be given a briefing on all the events that will transpire.  Or a laminated piece of paper to read as a refresher, with illustrations and diagrams.  I would appreciate that.  I know Julian would appreciate that.  So they're not doing it on purpose if they don't bite down hard enough. They just didn't go to dental x-ray school.

#3 The “jokes”

You tell me that you bought my car for me after having a crown done. Contrary to how it seems, you actually didn’t buy me a car. You bought yourself a crown. I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education, and have spent hours making this crown fit precisely in your mouth, so maybe you helped me make a portion of a student loan payment. But you certainly didn’t buy my car.

This is stupid and I hate you.

Also this is funny because my dentist used to tell terrible jokes and I was always like, boooo just get on with it.  Today, Julian's dentist was fine. I liked him ok and he seemed to have confidence (this is another thing I'm noticing lately. I always prefer the hygienist or medical assistants or radiology technicians to the actual MD in charge. They're always so shifty and uncomfortable. But that's a topic for another day probably).  He started by asking us if we had any weekend plans. Julian and I looked at each other, at peak anxiety, and I said, "Uhh.. I think we're just trying to get through this."  So he continued, "well, my wife bought us tickets to Fit Con." And that provided enough entertaining follow up conversation for the rest of the visit. I tried to ask as many questions as I could without openly ridiculing but I did say (again, minimal filter environment) "huh... that sounds super weird," with a quiet nod from the hygienist.  But my opinions on gym culture are another topic for another day.

#2 On appointments

You no-show an appointment or cancel last-minute. Some things are unavoidable, but when it’s because your hairdresser got a last-minute cancellation and you had to take that appointment instead, this is just rude. Not only am I unable to fill the 2 hours of my schedule that I reserved specifically for you, but someone else who wanted to get in had to wait 2 weeks for his/her appointment. And on that note, when you have the first appointment of the day, and you show up late for your appointment, I am late for every other patient the rest of the day.

Cry me a freakin' river. 

#1 Denial

When I tell you that you grind your teeth, you deny it, as if I am accusing you of having a horrible disease or being a baby murderer. It’s not that bad to be a tooth grinder. I’m just pointing something out and maybe offering a way to prevent more problems in the future. This observation is concluded from signs or symptoms that are based on real science, not myth.

And along those lines… bonus #11. You tell me a diagnosis I make is simply wrong without listening to me. If you know so much, why are you coming to me? You do the filling or root canal yourself. You obviously don’t need me.

Sigh. Let us all once again emphasize the importance of bedside manner. Having a little sensitivity. Listening to patients. Because I've definitely felt dental shamed plenty of times-- "Ohh, looks like you hate that tooth!" (actual statement said to me)  Ohh looks like I'm going to punch you IN THE THROAT. I CAN DO IT, I'M IN A GOOD POSITION HERE.   So just be frank, be real, get to the point, and stop being so judgy.  "So what i'm seeing is teeth that look like this. This could be due to this or that but I'm wondering, do you grind your teeth? This is super common."  Like, treat me like a person. Why is it so hard?


In conclusion to all of this, I'm beginning to think this dentist's patients might hate her because she's just a terrible person, so my advice is, don't do that. Don't be that way. If you're a lame human, you will probably make for a lame dentist. Another possible conclusion: All dentists are human-hating robots, because no real human would ever want to do anything like this, no offense to my cousin Rob who is probably a super nice robot dentist. I mean, his name is Rob. C'mon. (shoutout, Rob!)


Alanna said...

When I was a little kid, my Grandma worked as a dental hygienist, so we used to go see her when we went to the dentist and I LOVED it-- we got to see Grandma, we got to pick something out of the treasure chest! It was magical! Then we moved and stopped seeing her, but I still loved the dentist. Then I had braces and hated the orthodontist (whose name was DR. RENCHER!!!!!!!!!), but still loved the dentist.

Then grad school and no dentists. Then pregnancy and I a real job for my husband so we had dental insurance and I finally saw a dentist again and I had... 9 cavities. It's been all downhill from there.

Somewhere in the last few years it gradually dawned on me that I hate the dentist. Maybe not as much as you and Julian do. But it really is just awful.

(No more cavities since I finally started flossing every night, so that's been good, at least. But still. There is nothing fun about sitting in that chair having your teeth scraped. That feeling is the absolute WORST."

Also, whoever wrote that article should NEVER work with people ever. And certainly not on their mouths.

)en said...

Nine??? Oh, bollocks. Did you do it all in one go? (why am I british?) Blimey, Alanna.

Joel said...

Wow, this is a lot to chew on. (HAHAHAHAHAHA!)

I disliked my dentist as a kid. He was mean and didn't seem sympathetic. I got my mom to switch to a new one that I liked. I even had him take out my horribly impacted wisdom teeth with local anesthetic instead of being knocked out by a dental surgeon. When I had braces and was awful about brushing, I had to have a crapload of work done afterward, and I think that helped me develop an appreciation for what dentists do for us.

Since then I've had good dentists who were kind. But I would find a dentist I liked and then it seemed like we moved soon after, so it would take me a year or two to find a new one. I have apprehension about the work itself, and the cost, but I usually have a pleasant enough experience while I'm there.

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