Someone I consider to be a friend recently did something that I admire greatly: something that, even with everything I have been through, I am unable to do. He conquered his fear and went to the dentist. His story is here if you would like to read it. It has only been 10 years since I have been to the dentist but that was just for a cleaning.
Unlike JC, I can point to the exact incident that caused my overwhelming, unreasoning, heart-pounding terror of dentists. I was 13 and I was finally due to get my braces off. My parent (I will not name which one it was for reasons you will read shortly) took me to a new orthodontist as we had moved from my old one six months prior.
Taking off the braces themselves was a simple enough procedure. There was some pressure as the bands were removed from each tooth but that was all. After it was done however, the orthodontist took my parent into his private office, leaving me alone to admire my teeth. I had been wearing braces since I was 11. After two years it was fantastic not to have all that metal in my mouth anymore. It was 1979 so no Invisalign for me.
After about 15 minutes a very angry looking parent (MY very angry looking parent) came out of the private office and stalked out the front door with a quizzical 13 year old girl in tow. But of course I knew better than to say anything. I don’t remember the drive home. I just remember that in our small town it was a very short drive.
When we got home, however, that’s when things really got rough. My parent told me that the dentist asked if I was retarded. After two years, the area of my teeth that had been under the band was much lighter than the tops and bottoms of the teeth that had been exposed.
My parent was SO angry over this that I was dragged into the bathroom and put in a very tight headlock while my teeth were viciously scrubbed by my parent. The more I squirmed, pushed and cried, the tighter the grip on my skull and hair became.
I was raised that only bad daughters criticize their parents so I immediately transferred all blame to the dentist. Before too long, it was ALL dentists that were cruel and hurtful. And now my phobia has reached a crisis point. If someone seriously talks to me about making a dental appointment for me, it gets really bad really fast.
I can’t breathe. It feels like the entire herd of Ringling Brothers Circus elephants are standing on my chest and throat. It’s as though my lungs and throat have turned to stone and I can’t make them work. Add to that the 13 year old voice in my head screaming, NONONONONONONONONO!!!!! I have to breathe into a bag because all I can get out are little squeaking gasps. Then, if it gets really bad, there’s also the vomiting.
And this is at the serious suggestion of going to the dentist.
JC talks about having nightmares. I don’t. I just have this unreasoning terror that paralyzes my body. I lose all ability for rational thought. All that’s left is the 13 year old girl who is terrified beyond the ability to express of being put in a headlock and having her teeth scrubbed again. The terror is So big and so encompassing that it drowns out the rational voice that tells her that the dentist didn’t do it to her. Her parent did.
After all, to the thirteen year old who is in control, that couldn’t possibly have happened because her parent loves her and wouldn’t hurt her so of COURSE it was the dentist.
I have faced the debriding of dead tissue from my dying breasts. I dealt with it as the Hack tried sewing cadaver skin to my necrotic breasts as a living bandage. I did my own wet-to-dry dressings and packed the open wounds in my chest when the sutures opened up after the implants were removed.
Yet I simply cannot face going to the dentist.
People say I am brave. I am not. I did what I had to do to get through the necrosis, dehescinece, etc. I just can’t face the dentist because I can’t convince myself that I won’t end up being held down and hurt again.