I’ve been putting this off for a while, but the events of the last week opened my eyes. I can no longer pretend that this relationship is okay. All of my friends say I should dump you and find someone who treats me better. They try to fix me up with someone who is a kinder, gentler version of you. But, who are we kidding? You’re all the same. And the statistics prove it.
Over 50% of people just don’t like you, and almost 20% have anxiety about seeing you.
They call it “dental anxiety” and it’s pretty common. To be really clear, I am not one of those people. I’m one of the 10% of people who have “dental phobia.” Dental phobia, or odontophobia, leaves people panic-stricken and terrified.
Like all good phobias, mine is deeply-rooted in my childhood. But, my earliest memories of you were good. Dr. Brenner lived above a Marshall’s department store. I remember walking to the back of the store with my mom and sisters to take an elevator with one of those cool folding gates to get to his office. Dr. Brenner was a warm grandfather-like figure with kind eyes and a playful laugh. He told epic knock-knock jokes.
After a few minutes “riding” up and down in the chair and some bubblegum flavored fluoride rinse, it was time to dig for a prize in the treasure chest for “being so brave.” The most amazing tchotchkes were buried in those colorful little rocks. No drills, no needles, no gag-inducing procedures… just quality time with an old friend before digging for buried treasure and picking out a brand new toothbrush. Those were the days!
My dental history took a tortuous turn after Dr. Brenner died or retired (I don’t remember which,) and my mom introduced to the “new guy.” In my mind’s eye, I can see his tiny little office and those stark white walls without a single picture to distract one from the multi-sensory hell experience he’d deliver. Nope… “you just sit there and think about your love for Twizzlers while staring at the tray of shiny, mini mouth weapons while you wait.” (Makes mouths happy, my ass!)
Dr. Stripe was a beast — half-man, half-monster. He was at least 8 feet tall with a hook where his hand should have been. To clearly establish the social hierarchy between us, he never smiled and made sure he was always looking down at me when making eye contact. He was a bad, bad man, and he hurt me every time I went to see him. Every. Single. Time.
Fast forward a few years to my 20s where managing dental care is considered a responsible part of adulthood. Except, as a starving college student/bartender with no dental benefits, I had the perfect out! I simply couldn’t afford it. As a general rule, I secretly celebrated rising dental costs while brushing my guilt away. I went to the dentist when something hurt. And by “hurt” I mean tears rolling down my contorted face sobbing between screams of agony. Yep… time to make an appointment.
When I finally found my way back to you, the shame combined with my ineffective self-dentistry management resulted in a painful multi-visit cleaning/root canal/crown trifecta. That’ll teach me!
Now, I know what you’re thinking… “Don’t blame me for the sins of my predecessors.” Here’s the thing you should know about the 10% of dental-phobes out there like me: Everything about you and the people who came before you (except Grandpappy Brenner and his treasure chest full of bravery prizes) causes overwhelming, debilitating anxiety. Full-on panic attacks that feel like I’m slowly being sucked into a huge vat of that green Nickelodeon slime…filled with snakes.