I recently had an issue with one of my teeth. I was coming back from a weekend break with my family at Center Parcs, and I was eating a cereal bar when it took part of a back tooth with it. I was struck by two things – first, I would have to go to the dreaded dentist as soon as possible, and second, breaking your tooth on a cereal bar on the way home from Center Parcs sounds like the lead single from an album called I’m So Middle Class You Wouldn’t Believe It.
I have had a troubled relationship with dentists. My mum raised me with the belief that, instead of being a tooth-destroying poison, sugar was a really good way of making everything taste good. This, in combination with my laziness in tooth care after polishing off a bowl of broccoli and sugar, meant that when I did visit the dentist, he would inevitably bark at me about how badly I was doing at life. Then I would spend every single moment in between visits terrified of seeing him again. The fear would put me off eating; I would be unable to finish my sugar salad.
This left me with a lifelong fear of dentists. Every time I have an appointment, the preceding week is a complete write-off as I catastrophise, picturing the dentist telling me that my teeth are all unusable and have to be replaced with wooden pegs. I’ve worked my way through a few of them in my adult life (dentists, not wooden pegs). I know it must sound mad to anyone who doesn’t have this problem, but I genuinely get so anxious about going back to the dentist that I keep finding new ones.
The nadir came when I went to a new dentist to have root canal treatment. There I was, mouth wide open, my head rocked back. I had felt fairly comfortable until midway through the procedure, when he started freaking out and moving away from me, in a manner so terrified that I actually wondered if he had unleashed some sort of demon from my mouth. I sat up in my chair and found that there was a pigeon next to my head.
The bird had apparently got in through the ceiling, and by luck my dentist was absolutely terrified of them. He asked me to deal with it, and I told him that he should try to overcome his phobias, while making a mental note to never, ever come here again.
Something had to change. I’d have to either find a dentist I felt comfortable about visiting, or learn dentistry myself. The way things had gone up to that point, either of those plans seemed equally likely. After a lot of Googling, I eventually found a dentist who specialised in nervous patients. They were apparently used to people who felt anxious at even the sight of the room, or who had a fear instilled in them by a run-in with a pigeon.
The experience was very different. I was welcomed in, made to feel very comfortable, and then given headphones to listen to music of my choice while they did whatever they had to. You still have to lie there with your mouth cranked open, which I still find awful, and they can’t do anything about that bit where your mouth is numb and so you spit the rinse out of your nose and down your chin, but, apart from that, it was very much an anxiety-free experience (if you ignore financial anxiety).
I got my tooth fixed and they even sorted a chip in the front one that I’ve had ever since I hit it with a microphone. Most importantly, I think I have overcome my fear of dentists. I still hate pigeons, though.