Like pulling teeth



On a scale from one to ‘I’d rather be catapulted into the sky’, I am a solid 10 out of 10 deathly afraid of going to visit the dentist. It’s an entirely rational fear. A dentist is a stranger who covers their hands in tight latex gloves, then inserts those gloves into your mouth while holding a miniature drill. I’ve never seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but I assume the plot is pretty much the same. Masks, machinery, bad sunglasses and me, strapped to a chair while the top 40 blasts its way through the in-roof speakers in a vain attempt to distract me from the 10-metre-long needle entering my gums. For the most part, I don’t blame the actual dentists. It’s not their fault society holds on to the archaic practice of hacking at people’s mouth bones while they lie rigid in a reclining chair. It’s also not their fault I spent my entire childhood hunting for lollipops like a demonic squirrel. Though I can’t say for sure, it’s very slightly possible that my fear is at least partially rooted in the fact I have a mouth full of soft molars and swollen gums. Sometimes I wake up at night to stoke the flames of my tooth worries, squirming under the covers as I google words like ‘tooth decay heart disease’ and ‘death pain gum rot’. For this I can only blame myself, carbonated beverages, and whoever is responsibl­e for the dentist being so expensive that I couldn't afford to go for almost the entirety of my 20s.

The obvious irony of dentist fear is that the longer you avoid letting someone stare into your mouth with a head torch, the more likely you are to be accosted by the various machinerie­s that cut, grind and fill your teeth. I’ve tried using this logic to reason with myself. Make the appointmen­t, Sam; it’s only going to get worse, Sam; remember what Google told you about the likelihood of your imminent tooth death, Sam. But the fear is real.

When I looked to the internet for solutions, it suggested a list of options that ranged from sort of OK to deeply absurd in terms of practicali­ty, affordabil­ity, and the likelihood that I would ever be able to make myself do them. Sure, I would love to be sedated out of my mind, but not at the cost of a secondhand car. Deep breathing definitely falls into the ‘much more affordable’ category, but so far has been about as effective as telling myself I’ll get a sticker that says “you did it” if I surrender to the drill. For me, by far the most effective technique for at least somewhat quelling the fear is walking through the door and immediatel­y announcing, “All my teeth are rotten, I’m scared you’re going to harm me, and no matter what you say, I will spend the whole time in such a heightened state of anxiety that you, yourself, may actually have a panic attack.” It’s not foolproof, but it’s something.

Given we live in a world where there are such technologi­es as robot companion dogs and edible drones, it’s a little hard to believe that in order to eat, and therefore to survive, most of us still rely on soft flesh pockets full of vulnerable little bones that turn yellow, break and rot inside our skulls. I’d like to say this is the real source of the fear: how ridiculous­ly vulnerable humans are with our soft bodies and exposed teeth. But that would be a lie. In terms of fears, this one is pure. Unless you’re blessed with a cavity-free existence, there is nothing to like about visiting the dentist.

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