Warning: this post may contain graphic depictions of bodily fluids.
I’ve been slowly working through all the things that I put off because I’ve been sick, to reduce my sense of overwhelm. One of the things that I’ve been putting off for a long time, is going to the dentist to have a regular checkup and clean.
Three things prompted this: the first was simply that I haven’t been to the dentist in many years even before I became ill almost seven years ago, and I certainly haven’t been since.
Secondly, my gums of started to bleed during brushing lately and that bothers me.
Thirdly, the tension headache that I have most of the time tends to move around and often settles in my teeth, either on my upper jaw, my lower jaw or both at the same time. It occurred to me that the symptoms that I have in my head could be related to toothache or gum disease, and I have also heard theories relating migraines and even CFS to dental or orthodontic work; so I thought I should probably check that out.
Going to the dentist has never felt like much fun for me, so I was feeling pretty anxious. My previous experience of dentists had always been pretty painful, and they keep reminding me that the evil guy in The Little Shop of Horrors who chose to be a dentist so he could inflict pain on other people.
The five extractions that I needed in order to have braces during high school were agonizing, as were the braces which lasted for several years afterwards. I recently did a breathwork session with another coach which focused on the pain and sense of powerlessness that I felt about during that orthodontic treatment, and the feelings were still strong enough that I cried about it during the breathwork session.
So I was pretty apprehensive about going back to the dental chair again.
The dental technician was friendly and kind, calming and supportive; but I was very anxious the whole time she was working in my mouth during the clean. It felt invasive. Well, I guess that’s because it was invasive. She was only doing what she had to do; what I had asked her to do; and she was doing it as gently and quickly as she possibly could. It’s a preventative measure designed to prevent even more pain further down the track.
But my nervous system doesn’t know that, does it? It’s probably unconsciously recalling all those bad dental experiences during high school, and the many trips to the orthodontist to shove more metal in my mouth or to painfully adjust what was already there.
When the dental technician removed the mouthguard that she had put in to hold my lips open, gobs of saliva went everywhere and the whole thing felt completely gross and embarrassing to boot.
The dentist said that my X-rays looked fine, and there was no evidence of bone loss or anything that in my mind could explain the tense feeling that I get in my head and teeth; so that was a relief.
Having survived the clean and avoided any drilling, I then inquired about getting a chip on one of my front teeth fixed. I chipped it a few years back by involuntarily biting down on a fork I had in my mouth while having breakfast with a pretty girl who was telling me all the Tantric sexual exercises that she would like to practice with me. I can’t say for sure whether it was the anticipation of the sexual practices, or my general state of nervousness that caused the involuntary bite; but either way, I don’t like the look of the chip it took out of my front tooth and it’s just another thing that I’ve been putting off attending to until I get all better.
Before getting the chip fixed though, the dentist sold me on the idea of having my teeth whitened, which involved making a pair of take-home whitening trays based on molds taken from my teeth. One of the scariest parts that I remember about getting braces was having the initial molds of my teeth taken, because when they shoved this tray full of goupy stuff in my mouth and made me sit there while the goup set, I was certain that I was going to gag and choke. The several minute wait felt agonizing.
This time around, my mouth filled with saliva and it was difficult to swallow without gagging on the goup. I tried to practice all my mindfulness and conscious breathing relaxation techniques to stay calm while my scary mind kept saying “You’re going to gag! You’re going to gag! Get that thing out of your mouth!”, and I’m like “Shut the fuck up, unhelpful scary voice in my head!”
To make my anxiety even worse, the dental assistant who had put the mold-making thing in my mouth left the room almost immediately afterwards, so I felt abandoned. She wasn’t gone very long, but it felt like an eternity to me when I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to continue to breathe without choking and/or gagging. I wanted someone to hold my hand and tell me that it was all going to be OK. Instead, all the stress probably just made me salivate even more, making the situation worse.
Eventually much to my relief, the dentist came back and removed the mold from my mouth. It didn’t come easily and I worried that one of my teeth was going to come out with it. When it did come out, it was accompanied by buckets more saliva. Gross!!!
Then they put in the second mold for my lower set of teeth, and I got to go through the whole thing all over again.
With the teeth whitening molds made, I was finally done. I paid the bill I got the hell out of there. I still have to go back to get the trays and go through the whitening process at home, and then go back and actually get the chip fixed. But for now, my Little Shop of Horrors torture session is over.
The next day, I felt really wiped out and spent most of the day in bed. I talked to a couple of coaching clients in the morning, but the afternoon was a complete write off.
I can’t say for sure whether my nervous system was reacting to the invasive visit to the dentist, or whether I was just up for a rest. Either way, I’m glad that my dentist visit is over and I don’t have to feel anxious now about whether tooth decay is causing my headaches.
When the dental technician said that more frequent cleaning visits would make each visit shorter and less distressing, I thought that sounded like a pretty compelling plan.