Fear and Loathing in Waterloo

Good day, my closest interwebs peeps! Let us speak today of dentists.

I understand, trips to the dentist are things that people tend to have All The Feels about. Some people are decidedly meh about the whole deal while others have an abject terror of all things dental.

I am in between these two camps. Or, rather, I have a foot in both camps.

On the one hand, I have become accustomed to cleanings to the point that I find them ALMOST enjoyable. I relax, I zone out, sometimes I feel ever-so-close to dozing off… It’s fair to say that most days, I don’t mind.


Then there are days when I am absolutely full of anxiety, when I am ill in the pit of my stomach at the thought of going. Those are the days when Things Will Be Done.

I fully admit that I have a terror — possibly a phobia — of dental needles. If someone comes into the room at the dentist’s office carrying a dental needle, I will break down and cry in the chair. I can’t stand it.

I had terrible experiences with dentistry as a child and a teen. My first dentist was horrible as a dentist and as a human being, apparently run out of town on a rail for being a pedophile when I was about six. Rest assured I did not experience this firsthand; I was thankfully just a victim of his horrible dentistry.

My second dentist was a very nice guy. Really nice. A cool, jock-type guy. I liked him. I did not, however, like getting a ridiculous number of needles and getting something like eight teeth pulled in a two-week period in order to get braces. Admittedly, some of those teeth were baby teeth — maybe two? But the rest…

Well, let me just say that I have good teeth. (Bad gums, but excellent teeth.) And by that I mean, my teeth have really long roots. So, when it came time to pull those other six-ish teeth, they put up a fight.

I estimate, getting let’s say 4 needles per tooth, six teeth being pulled, plus baby teeth… two weeks… let’s just say I got over 20 needles in the two weeks I got all those teeth pulled. Some of which were in THE ROOF OF MY MOUTH. Which, as you may know, is NOT. FUN. It is the least fun of all the needles. In the days before they had invented that numbing-gel stuff they put on your gums pre-stabbing-you-with-a-needle, WHICH DOESN’T ACTUALLY HELP AT ALL.

Now, nothing is going to scare a kid at a dentist like getting multiple needles in order to pull teeth. EXCEPT when your six-foot-three, 200 pound dentist, Dr. Basketball, has to KNEEL ON THE ARM OF THE DENTIST CHAIR TO PULL OUT YOUR TEETH.

It was not my favourite couple of weeks, let me tell you.

Next up was orthodontia, which was mostly fine. Originally, the orthodontist, a friend of Dr. Basketball that we’ll call Dr. Second String (because he was not as good a basketball player), mentioned to my father that he would want to break my jaws in order to widen them so that there would be lots of room for my teeth.

At which point, my father was all NOT ON YOUR LIFE, PAL, THIS IS MY KID.

Well, it was still the dark ages of orthodontia, after all. So. My jaws, thanks to my father, remained intact. But the orthodontist did get to work moving my teeth around.

Around this time, I told my father in no uncertain terms that I would not be going back to my dentist. No way, no how. He reluctantly agreed; given the teeth-pulling and the threats of jaw-breaking I think he completely understood my fear. He was no fan of going to the dentist himself.

But he did make a deal with Dr. Second String to at least keep an eye on my teeth so if anything was amiss, we could get it fixed — maybe not at Dr. Basketball, but still. Maybe he could take me to his dentist.

So, the years passed. My braces came and went.

And my father gently began to urge me to see a proper dentist. I refused. He let it go.

Except around that time, he started seeing a new dentist, in Waterloo. His dentist got some new technology that allowed him to do fillings and the like without freezing. It was a laser-type gizmo. But it was a pain free treatment with no needles. My father asked if he could bring me in. His dentist agreed.

So my father told me about it. He said his dentist was a really nice, gentle man. He promised me, there would be no needles, and no pain.

I agreed.

I went to his dentist, Dr. Niceguy, who was wonderful and understanding and promised me no needles and no pain with his new gizmo. I agreed, and he took care of my teeth for about 10 years, needle-free.

He even referred me to a dental surgeon here in town, when it came time to get my wisdom teeth out, who was quite possibly the kindest dentist in history — like getting your dental surgery done by Mr. Rogers — and who would put me under for the whole process.

Dr. Niceguy was a good man, and he totally made good on his promise to me.

Until my late twenties, when I needed a cavity filled. Now, I take great care of my teeth, but my teeth have very deep grooves in them and regardless of how much I brush and floss, the cavities come. Up until that day, they had been steadily and easy filled by Dr. Niceguy, needle- and pain-free.

But on that day, in my 27th year, I needed a surface filling. Dr. Niceguy came into the office holding a needle.

I stammered and flailed and started with, “But you promised! NO NEEDLES!”

He looked and me and chuckled and gently said, “I think you are old enough”.

But I wasn’t. Even though he was kind and as gentle as possible, I cried. I was terrified.

Mr. Niceguy retired a few years later, and with him, his needle-free fillings. And he passed his practice on to two very nice young dentists, Jackie and Vic. I loved that practice. Jackie and Vic were awesome. Their hygienists were phenomenal.

But they had needles.

Jackie always did my fillings. I cried a lot. She was totally okay with that. Very understanding and soothing. Her hygienists wiped my tears while Jackie worked on my teeth.

But because of family situations and a devastating illness, both Jackie and Vic had to sell the practice. And that is how we are now with my current dentist, Dr. Flash.

Today I went in for a cleaning. I have been going to the same dental practice for 30 years now. It’s the same building, but in the last couple of years the dentist has moved across the hall to a flashy, all-new office suite.

I have kept my teeth in great shape since the last filling Jackie put in 15 years ago. And today, my dentist looked at my fillings and, although he declared my teeth to be in good shape, he said it’s time to start thinking about replacing my fillings.

Now, in the past few years, BDH has been getting a number of fillings done at Dr. Flash’s office, and it has not been a good experience for him. My teeth, and my fillings, have not given me any trouble.

So I began to panic a bit. First off, I am not having any problems with my fillings, at least not yet. And I know that Dr. Flash has this big new fancy office suite to pay for. But, most significantly, new fillings means needles, and I am NOT prepared for that.

I am sweating and anxious just thinking about it.

Last January, I took That Girl to the dentist. I may have mentioned it. She just had a cleaning, but afterwards Dr. Flash had a couple of free minutes and said he wanted to put coatings on her molars for protection. He said it would be quick and easy.

Well, it was anything but. She FREAKED THE FUCK OUT.

Despite the years she’s been going there, and the many times we have discussed her disability and needs, he dealt with her like he would deal with any neurotypical adult. NOT like I would expect him to deal with a neuro-atypical child. His assistant was kind but ineffective in the face of a terrified, wailing 7-year-old.

And, just like when I was a child, I vowed never to take her back to the dentist again.

Except of course I did not mean it. I went straight to her OMT, and asked her for help. As a practicing OMT and former dental hygienist, she knew exactly what to do, and referred us to a pediatric-friendly dental office, here in town, and a pediatric orthodontist, also here in town.

We haven’t had a chance to go to the dentist yet, although That Girl has a tooth that refuses to come out that is standing in the way of her orthodontia. So that day may be coming soon.

But I am beginning to think that maybe, it’s time for me to go there, too.

After Dr. Flash’s comments today, I got to thinking that a child-friendly dentist’s office, that specializes in making dentistry a positive, anxiety-free experience might be the way for me to go in future.

I know I won’t be able to avoid dental needles forever, but as I am getting on in age, dentistry is going to become more demanding rather than less. And, in the event that Dr. Flash’s recommendation of replacing my fillings is more urgent than not, it would really be a good time to get myself into a practice that understands my phobia and can cope with it before the big dental work comes along.

So we will see what That Girl’s orthodontist has to say in November. But she has to go for a checkup soon, regardless, so maybe it’s time to switch all together, as a family.

My apprehension about changing up until now has been that sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t — especially when going to the dentist is so fraught with fear and apprehension for me. I am, after all, still relatively comfortable at my current dentist’s office.

But the devil is still the devil, and if you have to face him, you might as well do it on your terms, in as comfortable a way as you can. And I  just don’t know if that is my current dentist any longer.

Whoever they are, they had best be prepared for a lot of tears, and be well-stocked in kleenex. I would recommend they buy SHARES in kleenex.

1 thought on “Fear and Loathing in Waterloo

  1. Hi there!

    I too need to get a filling replaced. Have not yet booked the appointment for it.

    Totally forgot about the needle part.

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