Taking my Anxiety to the Dentist

I had my teeth cleaned today which means that I couldn’t sleep last night knowing the appointment was coming up. It means that I skipped breakfast this morning in favor of a glass of water because I didn’t want anything in my stomach to throw up. It means I left the house early, so I didn’t have to worry about traffic and that while in the office parking lot I took my anti-anxiety medication before I walked in the door.

I don’t know anyone who enjoys going to the dentist, but I’ve learned over the years that most people don’t dread it quite as much as I do. My parents didn’t have dental insurance while I was growing up, trips to the dentist were reserved for when things were very, very wrong and painful. As soon as I had my own job with my own dental coverage, I took my sorry teeth to a nearby dental office that I’d picked out of the phone book.

So, cavities. Lots of cavities. My phone book dentist was “old school” and by that, I mean he wasn’t big on modern tools and pain relief. Because I valued my teeth, I endured. If I complained of pain, he mocked me. He called me a “baby” and a “whiner.” If I started to cry from the pain, he would loudly proclaim to the rest of the office that I’d “sprung a leak” and laugh. It took me too long to realize I could shop around until I found a dentist I liked and leave Dr. Sadism in the dust.

I’ve had a few dentists since then, a few fillings, root canals, crowns, and even dental implants. I bring a blanket from home and my own headphones and music. I make sure to take my anxiety medication and request the nitrous even for cleanings. This is what works for me and I’ve given up caring what the dental hygienists think about it.

In the waiting room today, a young mother came in with her son. The boy was probably between 4-6. He was a busy child, running from one end of the waiting room to the other, touching everything and talking loudly. I felt a bit sorry for the mother and hoped that she didn’t think I was judging her based on his wild behavior. The front desk staff did finally intervene when he pushed a chair up to the fire alarm and attempted to set it off. I didn’t see what happened after that because I was called in for my cleaning.

I was assigned a new hygienist this visit, one that I hadn’t worked with before, and she questioned my request for nitrous (which was in my file). She seemed to have a difficult time setting it up and I told her that it wasn’t working. She insisted it was. By now my anxiety is starting to rachet up so I give myself a little pep talk and decide to continue. She makes lame joke about the nitrous and I inform her, again, that it isn’t working properly. I’ve had the gas often enough to know what it feels/smells like. I suggest that something is wrong with the mask as it is not a good seal around my nose. She shrugs this off. I give myself another internal pep talk and we proceed.

Hygienist leaves the exam room to rinse off my bite splint, leaving me in chair with faulty nitrous hook up (which she later agreed wasn’t working). Anxiety is making my skin crawl now so I’m trying to do a little meditation to get myself calm for the few more minutes I have to be there. Out of nowhere someone grabbed the back of my head and pulled my hair. Because I have acute anxiety, rather than shouting out, I freeze. I can’t scream, I can’t talk, I can’t breathe. I manage to push the nitrous hook-up off my face and roll off the exam chair onto the floor before anyone comes to help.

It takes a minute to get my breathing under control again and by then I’m crying. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I just want to get out of there and go home. Go somewhere safe. When my hygienist returns her first response is to tell me that I cannot be ON THE FLOOR. As if being there was just something I decided to do on a whim. She helps me up but I’m still crying and trying not to hyperventilate. She pats my arm and says that it is “okay” because it was “just some kid.”

Just some kid. Well, that’s not the fucking point is it? There are days I have to gather up every ounce of courage I have just to leave the house. I don’t need people to tell me to “cheer up” or “calm down” or “get over it.” My coping mechanisms don’t involve or harm anyone else. I take great care to not let my illness inconvenience anyone else. I wish more people understood that not everyone wants to be touched, startled, confronted, or even spoken to.

I didn’t wake up one day and capriciously decide to have crippling anxiety. It’s exhausting. Other people are the wild card in any situation. When introverts say “hell is other people” this is what they mean.

dentist find a happy place

 

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