I have dental phobia. Specifically, I’m afraid to go to the dentist because I have a really hard time getting numb for procedures. I used to think it was just the crappy pediatric dentist I went to as a child. (Pro tip: If the dentist won’t let your parents go into the exam room to sit with you during procedures, he probably has something to hide, like the appliance he uses to hold your mouth open so you won’t bite him when he won’t stop hurting you when he’s working on your teeth.) I distinctly remember him being cross with me for squirming and flinching when he drilled my not-numb teeth, and I grew up thinking it was my fault, I was being a baby, and that I was doing something wrong. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that most people do actually get numb when the dentist gives them a shot and they don’t experience much, if any, discomfort.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve mentioned my inability to get numb to several dentists that I’ve seen, and while they’ve all seemed concerned about it, none have been able to do anything about it except for one. Consequently, I have pretty much avoided going to the dentist for the past ten years, even for a cleaning and general exam. Now, I know this is not smart and I’m well aware of how preventative care will help me to avoid bigger, more complicated problems down the road. I’m also aware that many other health problems can be exacerbated by poor dental health. I’m diligent about brushing my teeth thoroughly every day and, up until recently, even made a point of flossing every day. But, my rational, logical mind is no match for lizard brain which is convinced that every visit to the dentist will end in pain, fear and embarrassment. Add the fact that my recent dental insurance coverage was pretty much worthless and Grif’s unemployment, which severely impacted our income, made it impossible for us to afford to visit the dentist and I had the perfect excuses for not going.
When Liam was about two, I started looking for a pediatric dentist for him and I was determined to find one that both he and I were comfortable with so that his experience would be different than mine. I did lots of internet research, got recommendations from a few friends, found a pediatric dentist in our area that was covered by our insurance and accepting new patients, and scheduled an interview with her (without Liam) to discuss my hopes and fears and to check out her office, her staff and her bedside manner. She was professional, kind, genuinely concerned about my history and my needs, and had an open office policy which encouraged parents to sit with children during exams and procedures if they chose to. Liam’s first several check-ups and visits were a joy and he loved going to see the dentist so he could watch movies and get swag! Then, unfortunately, he needed to have a few cavities filled. The first thing that went wrong is that he panicked when they gave him the laughing gas and wouldn’t breath through his nose despite all of our encouragement. The next thing that went wrong is that the lidocaine shots hurt him (what happened to the topical anesthetic?) and then, he didn’t get numb enough, just like me. He cried, squirmed and complained during the procedure and the dentist kept trying to reassure him and finish the procedure, but by the time is was all over, Liam’s confidence in her and his trust in the entire dental process was destroyed. The final straw for both of us was when she essentially told him he was being unreasonable and that he couldn’t possibly be hurting as much as he said he was. We’ve never been back to her or any other dentist.
So now we have a problem. At ten, Liam is terrified of going to the dentist for even a check-up and cleaning, and I am completely disinclined to force him to go because I’m afraid as well. To make matters worse, Grif hasn’t seen the dentist since he left the Army about 20 years ago, and while he doesn’t seem to have the problems going numb in the dental chair, he does have lots of (probably very expensive) dental work that needs to be done, which is why he’s put off going to the dentist all this time. However, now that Grif’s employed again and will have medical insurance soon, I decided to look up the one dentist who was able to (eventually) get me numb during a filling. He tried really hard to make me comfortable and seemed to honestly care how I felt. Luckily, it appears he’s still practicing locally, so I’m going to make us all appointments for check-ups and cleanings as soon as Grif’s insurance is active. We’ll start small and easy and take it one step at a time.