First off, I guess my problems originate with my overall dislike of the dentist. They’re fine as people, but I absolutely hate going to the dentist, far more than any other doctor. It’s probably bad enough to be called a dental phobia.
Dental fear refers to the fear of dentistry and of receiving dental care. A pathological form of this fear (specific phobia) is variously called dental phobia, odontophobia, dentophobia, dentist phobia, or dental anxiety.
It is estimated that as many as 75% of US adults experiences some degree of dental fear, from mild to severe.  Approximately 5 to 10 percent of U.S. adults are considered to experience dental phobia; that is, they are so fearful of receiving dental treatment that they avoid dental care at all costs. Many dentally fearful people will only seek dental care when they have a dental emergency, such as a toothache or dental abscess. People who are very fearful of dental care often experience a “cycle of avoidance,” in which they avoid dental care due to fear until they experience a dental emergency requiring invasive treatment, which can reinforce their fear of dentistry.
Women tend to report more dental fear than men, and younger people tend to report being more dentally fearful than older individuals. People tend to report being more fearful of more invasive procedures, such as oral surgery, than they are of less invasive treatment, such as professional dental cleanings, or prophylaxis.
Until this year, I absolutely refused to go to a dentist in Japan. (Actually, for a few years when I worked for AEON, I didn’t have dental insurance.) So, I only went to the dentist one time in almost 8 years. That was when I was in Michigan and went to see Dr. Schaumberg about 4 years ago. Everything was okay then…
But when I was pregnant with Hana and right in the midst of the most awful morning sickness (last year in May), the third tooth from the back on my upper left side started hurting me. Well, I didn’t have a dentist in Japan yet and didn’t think a dentist could do anything without me being sick. (I couldn’t even brush my back teeth very well.) So, I brushed and flossed more carefully, started rinsing with Listerine, and chewing only on the right side. No more pain, but I knew the cavity was there… Morning sickness went away, but I thought, “Well… I’m pregnant and probably shouldn’t get that kind of dental work done right now, anyway.” So, I put it off some more. Then Hana was born, and I wasn’t supposed to go out for the first month. Then I was “too busy” taking care of Hana to go… Every so often, it would bother me just a little bit, but I would rinse it with the Listerine more often and be more careful about how I ate, and it would go away.
What finally got me to the dentist was a different tooth. On the upper right side (2nd from the back) is a tooth that was filled when I was in college. In February, I was eating something and thought a small part of the filling came out. (But since I wasn’t sure and wasn’t in pain, this really wasn’t a reason to go yet.) A couple days later, it started hurting just a little bit. So, I had a bad tooth on both the right and left side of my mouth and couldn’t put off going to the dentist anymore (unless I was going to stop chewing anything).
During the first visit, the dentist just put some medicine in both teeth to stop the pain and help soothe the nerves. A week later, the right side was fine, but the left side was still bad. Since I could chew on the right side, the dentist figured we should fix the left side first. So during the second or third visit, he started fixing the cavity on the left side. Well, it was too deep so I had a root canal right then. I was quite tense and stressed out about the drilling. It’s not the pain (it didn’t hurt at all since I was nicely numbed) as much as the sound of the drill. Over a period of almost 5 months (no appointments while in Izumo, and a couple missed due to sick kids), it was cleaned out. (A cavity in the tooth next to it was also fixed.) Just last week I finally got that tooth completely finished with a crown. Yay!!
So a couple of days ago, I had an appointment to fix the tooth on the right side. When it was first filled years ago, Dr. Schaumberg told me it was pretty deep and might need a root canal, so I was expecting I would have to get one this time. Sure enough, the dentist said I should have it done. But I wasn’t really nervous or tense at all this time. I’ve finally gotten used to this dentist and I’ve been going often enough that I feel comfortable. (If I use my birthing techniques, I can actually relax.) So on Tuesday, I had a root canal on the right side – no big deal. Except, I have one big problem… For more than a year, I’ve been chewing exclusively on the right side of my mouth. And I can’t seem to remember that I shouldn’t chew on that side right now. Yesterday, I was cleaning some stuff in the kitchen and popped a Cheerio in my mouth to see if they were stale or not. They were beyond stale – almost fossilized – and (wouldn’t you know) I bit down on hard on the Cheerio right on the tooth that had the root canal. Owww!! For about five minutes it throbbed so bad I was almost in tears. I think I’ve only forgotten once today… Maybe I won’t forget at all tomorrow! I hope not, because it’s pretty sore today.
Anyway, the moral of my story is GO TO THE DENTIST more often than once in eight years. You’ll save yourself a lot of pain. I think I’ve finally learned my lesson, and will not be skipping regular cleanings anymore.
(Now my concern is how to instill such thoughts in the heads of my children without making them afraid of the dentist. I’m afraid we’re not off to a good start with Gaku. His teeth are fine right now, but he really fights brushing. *Sigh*)