High anxiety (in the dentist’s chair)
I usually try to avoid the word “hate”—there’s enough hate in the world already, no need to add to the bad energy. Yeah, I’m the one on social media who really, really tries to promote what I love rather than gripe about what I … um … don’t love.
But I’m just gonna say it: I hate going to the dentist. Nothing makes me more nauseous than the idea of sitting in that chair. Nothing.
Well, other than being told I need to have a major dental procedure done.
I’m a total wuss when it comes to pain. When the dentist is in there poking around or trying to do a really minor repair (“I think we can do this without Novocaine, don’t you…?”), I try to breathe and tell myself, “I’ve had two babies—this can’t be worse than childbirth!”
In recent years, my anxiety in the dentist’s chair has turned to full-blown panic attacks: it feels like my airway is collapsing, and of course I start flailing around and spitting out instruments, hands, and anything else in an effort to breathe freely again. Not helpful.
Imagine my dismay when on a recent visit that was to involve a few simple touch-ups to some fillings, I was told that I had a really strange cavity below the gumline, and I had better trot off and have a root canal. As in NOW.
My first thought was, do they give general anesthesia for that? ‘Cause yes, please sign me up for that version.
So off to the endodontist I went, me and my really bad attitude.
And then a miracle happened.
The endodontist put the brakes on.
Let’s think about this, he said. I can do this root canal, but it’s a tricky one. You’re one of the approximately 20% who has two roots in a tooth that should have just one. I don’t normally guarantee the success of this procedure, and I’d be even less inclined to do it in your case. I think in a few months, you’d need to have an extraction anyway, so how about we figure out whether your time and money wouldn’t be better spent another way? I’m going to refer you to a periodontist for his opinion….
I walked out of his office like I was walking on air, like a huge burden had been lifted.
I still have a tooth that hurts—and now that I know the hole is there, it seems it hurts more than before. I still don’t know what is going to happen. I will likely still need a major dental procedure.
And I’d been given a gift, a really big one.
As an Integrative Nutrition® health coach, I definitely tend toward the woo side of things: I will choose an alternative modality over a conventional medical one any day, and as a rule, that has served me extremely well.
The one area of my health in which I have not made this shift has been my oral health, and I’m honestly not sure why that is.
This endodontist gave me the gift of time—time to get curious about why I let the extremely conventional dentist exclude me from decisions about my health, why I let a reactive form of treatment take over—and of autonomy—let’s look at all our options, then do what we agree is best or come to the conclusion that we may have to agree to disagree…agreeably.
I believe that there’s a place at the healthcare table for all practitioners. Unlike a lot of people who fall on the far woo side of the spectrum, I recognize that the conventional Western medical model claims a seat there, and there are many, many times that it will win the day, mostly in the treatment of emergencies and in the treatment (but not prevention) of advanced disease.
As a total aside, how weird is it that we consider the Western medical model the conventional one although many—if not most—of the alternative practices have much deeper roots in tradition? It’s sort of like conventionally grown produce: organic food is now labeled as such even though in reality, it is grown using a much older model….
So I’m spending my time between referred appointments to make a few appointments of my own with a more holistic practitioner and to dig into some research about the prevention of tooth and gum disease beyond regular brushing and flossing and fluoride and dental appointments.
And yes, that is one of those rabbit holes the interwebs created. (BTW, did you know that hormone shifts during peri/menopause can affect the tone of our airways? Maybe that’s why I feel like I can’t breathe when I’m flat on my back and why I suddenly snore much more than I used to? I wonder whether that is something dentists are taught?)
While I don’t believe everything Dr. Google tells me, there is a certain satisfaction in searching for something and seeing that I’m not the first and only one to think about it.
The whole experience has made me realize that perhaps it’s time to break up with my dentist and find one who won’t dismiss my concerns out of hand, who has some training in (or at least some openness to) preventive measures that don’t involve products on which there is money to be made, who brings me into the conversation about my health, and who doesn’t wait for a problem to surface before reacting in a way that heightens my already high anxiety.
I wonder whether my horrible anxiety around dentists will be alleviated by bringing that part of my healthcare more in line with my values. I’m not sure I’ll ever love a dentist … and I’m open to the possibility.
Leave me a comment about what’s important to you in a dentist—because the health of our teeth is intimately tied to our general health and well-being!