I Hate the Dentist

These words have become an ever-present part of every dentist’s day. We hear this statement day-in and day-out from a large percentage of our patients. Some of you reading this are saying “I totally agree with that sentiment, the dental office is the worst place on the planet”, and others might be thinking “I don’t know what they’re talking about, I love going to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned”. Whatever your position on this contentious point, let me give you a brief history of some of my own dental fears.

My dental journey began over thirty years ago when my first memories of “The Dentist” became indelibly etched into my mind. Before that my dad was just the guy that picked me up and hugged me at random times as well as sometimes tickling me for no reason. I became aware that my dad had something to do with teeth when my mom stopped in at his office at the end of Center Street here in Pocatello (probably so he and my mom could smooch or something equally gross to a five year old). I remember playing in the little area under the stairs that was designated for children (sound familiar to any Harry Potter fans?). The stairs were open backed so I recall watching the feet of the assistants and the patients as they made their way up to the treatment rooms. The sights, smells and sounds were directly associated with my dad, and so I rather liked them as I was growing up. When he came home, he smelled like “dad” and so when I went to the dental office, I felt comfortable and safe…until a fateful September day when I was 8 (cue dramatic and scary music).

The Blackfoot Fair was one of those things in a young boys mind that evoked happiness and much anticipation. I loved eating the foods, riding the rides, and even seeing the animals. My favorite booth was the Tiger Ears and I would happily stand in line to get one…or three. On the day of our annual visit to the Fair, I had a dental appointment. I walked across the street from school to my dad’s satellite office in McCammon and sat in his hygienist’s chair. Pandora Wheat was a lady that I would describe as sweet and wonderful. She was always so happy and pleasant to be around. The only part of her that I didn’t like was the annoying habit she had of making me swish with the “battery acid” liquid known as fluoride at the end of each appointment.

Like every other appointment, the end finally came and she marched me over to the sink and handed me the small cup filled with the vile concoction. I looked imploringly up at her to see if she would perhaps reconsider this act of cruelty to children, but to no avail. One entire minute of constant motion with the sourest and, for lack of a better term, spiciest fluid I’d ever known. She placed her finger on the button of the timer, signaling that it was indeed time for the torture to begin. The instant the liquid entered my mouth the room became a sort of tunnel; the only visible item being the slow count down of the numbers on the timer. As the liquid burned in my mouth, I imagined that I could hear a faint cackling sound which I can only guess was coming from this woman I had once called friend. At thirty seconds, I considered bolting and emptying my mouth at the first opportunity, but I realized that at some point I had to go home and face my dad, and so I continued to suffer. As the clock ticked ever on, my feet and legs began bouncing me up and down to take my mind off of the fact that my taste buds were currently being removed one by one. Ten seconds left and I realized that I was actually going to make it. The muscles in my throat had begun to contract and relax uncontrollably. I didn’t know what condition my mouth would be in after this onslaught, but by this point, I was determined. The seconds crawled by 3, 2, 1; I leaned over the small sink to spit, but instead I swallowed. I had actually ingested a material that is too caustic to clean tile grout. That nasty and evil liquid had now taken up residence in my stomach.

I looked up at Pandora with tears in my eyes and finally I could see the sympathy that was likely there all along. She put her arm around me and asked me if I felt OK. I mumbled something in reply as she led me back to her chair for my dad to do his exam. Later, as we traveled up to Blackfoot for the Fair, my belly ached a little, but I was not going to let this experience ruin the highlight of my fall. I made a b-line over to the Tiger Ear booth and quickly took my first bite of Heaven…it would also be my last…forever. I proceeded to lose my lunch as well as what felt like all of the lunches from the previous year. Since then I haven’t been able to even think of one without feeling a bit puny.

The moral of this story? Sometimes dentists and hygienists have to do things to us that are necessary and helpful, but that aren’t much fun. But just remember, that it isn’t any fun for us to have to cause said discomfort…even when it might seem like we’re really enjoying it.

PS: I love Pandora Wheat and have no hard feelings…unless she was to try to get me to swish with fluoride again!

PSS: We don’t have the swishy stuff anymore. We have become much more benevolent and use a paint on varnish that tastes quite good.