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  • Writer's pictureJohn Dodd

A Question of Fear

Photo by Daniel Frank from Pexels

Trigger warning for Dentistry going wrong

I went to the dentists today, I hate the dentists, but more than that, I fear the dentists.

Not just slight nervousness that I’m going to have some work done, but deep, edge of my seat, panic. Some part of me knows that there’s nothing to be worried about, things have changed a lot in the many years, and there’s no way that what could happen then, could happen now.

The rational part of me knows that.

But rational me doesn’t get to go to the dentist.

What happened to me, happened so many years before that it’s a (cheerfully) distant memory, but here’s the thing, this happened to me when I was 9. Should have been a normal procedure, one of the remaining baby teeth had gone bad and needed to come out. Back then, they just put you to sleep, got on with it and waited for you to wake up afterwards.

Did I mention I have a strong resilience to most anaesthesia?

Well, we didn’t know that at the time. Must have come as a hell of a surprise when I woke up as they were trying to pull the tooth. Came as even more of a surprise when they found out that all my baby teeth had full size roots all the way down to the bones, and they really didn’t want to come out.

I blame my lupine heritage…

So, what was in fact ten seconds of pulling later, that seemed more like ten years, the tooth is out, when they looked at it, they didn’t believe what they had. Mum kept that tooth, we looked at it years later, same size as the ones in my mouth now, massive long roots, still got the damage on it from when they had to use more force to get it out.

I didn’t go to the dentist for four years after that, couldn’t face going up those stairs, knowing that was waiting for me at the top. Then one day I was walking home with my brother, we weren’t old, but two kids on the other side of the street decided we were fair game, came over, smashed me in the side of the head. We got out of there, ran home, Dad went out in the car, found the lads, battered them back, but then we had to go get the damage seen to.

So I had to go back to the dentists.

Next two years, two root fillings, many more regular fillings, that surgery liked to keep busy, never a time I went when they didn't find something else wrong with my teeth.

I went to a different dentist when I moved to London, they couldn’t figure out why I’d had so much dental work done, the teeth I’ve got are very good. I smiled and thanked them for the check up, and walked away without another thought. Resolved never to go back to a dentists unless my life depended on it.

It took another eight years before I had to go to a Dentist again, something had gone rotten in the original work that had been done all those years ago. I held off going till the pain was so bad I was hallucinating, went in there, they pulled it with no drama, I apologised to the dentist for my fear, they smiled and waved it off, plenty of people who fear the dentist.

Next time, I broke a tooth at a friends wedding, didn’t go to get it seen to, just put up with the pain, the fear of having to go and get something done, even though I knew that the people who were going to be doing it weren’t the people who did the damage in the first place, just the thought of sitting in that chair, being helpless while people put drills in my mouth.


Nope, Nope, Nope…

I’d had this fear for as long as I can remember, I have to tell the dentist that I’ve got a resilience to normal anaesthesia, and I have to apologise in advance for my fear. Sitting in that chair, I can feel the terror coming up, I don’t have a happy place to go to, I hear that drill starting up, it’s all I can do not to dive out of the chair and run.

But I know.

I know that this isn’t the person who did what was done all those years ago, I know that this person isn’t the person who drilled teeth to get more money.

I know that.

But that doesn’t help.

And when it’s done, I know it’s not done, because when you have to put in as much anaesthesia as you do to numb everything for me, you’ve had to prod the gums with a needle a number of times, so when it starts to wear off (quickly, and I’m not sure if that’s a mercy), I can feel my teeth hurting, and the fear is back that something went wrong and I’ll be back in there soon, praying for it to be over.

Where am I going with this?

I have two real fears in the world, I may talk about the other one sometime, but this one is one that can be avoided by just not going to the dentists. Except that isn’t the answer. If you stay away from this one, they don’t catch the problems before they’ve occurred, and when you finally have to go, it’ll be worse than it could have been.

For me, it’s not about facing it down, it’s about understanding that a bad thing happened, and that while you’re never going to forget it, it doesn’t have to control your life. Lord knows, mine controlled me for quite some time. It’s not always possible to separate what someone did from what other people do, particularly when it’s something that you can make voluntary. I still have a deep distrust and fear of anything that involves an operation of any sort (even an elective), and I apologise all the time for these things, particularly as it’s not the fault of the person who’s doing the good work now, they shouldn’t have to adjust what they do because some b****** did bad things.

F.E.A.R. False expectations appearing real. So real that you’ll sabotage yourself trying to avoid them.

For me it was about realising that there are things that you don’t want to do, that you have to do, and that the more you do them, the more you realise that the thing that happened, isn’t the thing that defines who you are and what you do going forwards.

This morning’s Anaesthetic has worn off, and my gums are still aching, but I know that it’s over. Six months from now, I’ll go back, I’ll sit in the chair and try not to show that fear, I’ll spend every second fighting the urge to run for it.

But I will go…

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