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Dentists and Me – A mini-biography (Or: Why I HATE Dentists)

I am SO #$)(*#@ upset right now that I can’t speak. I’ve just come from a dentist office…

Most people who know me know that I have a particular dislike for the dentist office. Well, a lot of people do, right? Getting dental work done is often unpleasant. Many people have an irrational fear of the dentist office, too. Well I don’t have an irrational fear of the dentist office. I have a very valid anxiety.

So, let me share my history with dentists…

I think I was pretty normal for a kid. I don’t remember what my dental habits were back then. I’m sure they were fairly good, because my stepfather was pretty strict about… well, everything. I usually had a cavity or two when I went to the dentist, but never anything major.

When I was 10, my dental hygiene habits took a nosedive. My mother and I moved to CA, for unpleasant reasons I don’t care to discuss here, and for the first year or so we moved around a LOT. Every three months or less. There was at least a six month period during which I didn’t even own a toothbrush.

When we finally settled back down, and I went to a dentist, he wasn’t happy with the state of my mouth. I was lectured sternly about hygiene, treated to a cleaning that HURT, and had several cavities that had to be fixed. It was like being yelled at by my stepfather, whom I *hated. You can imagine that this didn’t give me much enthusiasm for brushing and flossing, or for going to dentist offices for regular cleanings. I was maybe 11 years old at the time. Let me say though, that if my dentist office visits were sporadic after this, it was usually because we lacked funds, not because I was refusing to go.

My first major dental work came when I was about 16 years old. I was in pain – a lot of pain. My mother and I called the dentist, but my dentist was out of town, and wouldn’t be back IN town until the following week. So my mother called her dentist, and he agreed to see me. He was a nice guy. He took a look, discovered I needed a root canal on the tooth, gave me some anesthetic, and went to work. As soon as he hit the nerve, my mouth exploded in pain, my hands flew up in surprise, and I knocked his glasses off. He had a wonderfully steady hand, so this didn’t result in major damage to my tooth. He gave me more anesthetic, which was also ineffective. He tried a third time to numb the area, but finally had to leave the tooth open to drain and put me on ibuprofen until my regular dentist got back to town and was able to complete the root canal. In addition to taking lots of ibuprofen, I was sucking on whiskey coated cotton balls for a week.

Two or three years after that, I got married and moved from CA back to AK. When my husband and I first moved, moving used up literally all our funds. So getting jobs and vehicles were our first priority. It was probably two or three years after moving before I remembered that I should find a dentist. Eventually, I did. More condescending lectures. More cleanings that were painful. Complete with a hygienist that told me, ‘If your teeth don’t bleed when you floss, you’re not doing it right!’ More cavities, and at least one more root canal. I complained about the hygienist, and suffered through the rest by discovering **nitrus oxide.

Then, when I was about 24, I got pregnant. It wasn’t long before our 5th wedding anniversary that we found out. The morning sickness was bad enough (and not confined to mornings), that we not only had to cancel our plans for an anniversary dinner, but I eventually had to quit my job because it rendered me unable to work. How miserable my pregnancy was is an entirely different story, but it did force us into bankruptcy when I had to quit my job. After my son was born, I chose to stay home and raise him myself rather than going back to work and paying 2/3 of my salary so someone else could raise him for me. For the next 5 years, we survived on one income, and dentists weren’t even thought of.

By the time my son was 5, when my husband and I decided that perhaps a separation would allow us some space to work things out, I hadn’t been to a dentist in probably 6 years. I had a few teeth that were painful, and at least one that was rather painful. Since we were planning a move, in addition to the separation, our insurance would be, at the very least, interrupted. The insurance we had at the time was also limited, and only covered $1500 worth of work per year, which wasn’t anywhere near enough for the amount of work I needed done. I hunted around until I found a dentist who could, at least, address the really painful tooth, and could see me within the month we had left before we moved out of state.

I cannot stress enough how horrible this dentist was. She was a fresh graduate of dental school. If I remembered her name, I would post it here to warn people away from going to her. She was more condescending than any other dentist had been, and worse – whenever she worked on me, she paid no attention to me AT ALL, and instead conversed about family and college courses with her assistant. Wait, it gets better. Fixing the one tooth took three dentist appointments. The first was preparation. The second was supposed to be when she finished the job, but she got impatient with the nitrus oxide taking too long to take effect, and turned up the feed. About 10 seconds later, I was so dizzy that I couldn’t even move. I wanted to communicate that it was too much, but my body wouldn’t respond. By the time I was finally able to move and get them to take it off, I was dizzy and nauseous, and ended up throwing up right there in the dentist chair. So, a third visit was required to finish the needed work on the tooth, and I only went back to her because no one else could have seen me soon enough.

Once I was down in CA, I was jobless and insurance-less. The rest of the work on my teeth would have to wait. It took me about a year and a half to get both job and insurance. As soon as I had insurance, I went and found myself a dentist. I told them that being at dentist offices made me nervous. I told them that I preferred not to be lectured about my hygiene. By the time I was 30, you see, I had learned to stand up for myself – even to dentists. With the ground rules laid out, things seemed to go well. I didn’t have a lot of $$, but I had credit, and I was determined, for once, to get my mouth FIXED.

I don’t remember how many times I was in that dentist office. I can say, that I had at least 5 crowns done, and at least 2 more root canals… maybe 3. I don’t remember any more. Things went well at first, and then deteriorated when it came time to do the crowns. I had specifically discussed with the dentist that I wanted the work on the front teeth to be done last. It was the biggest part of the work, and after it was done, I wanted to be done. It wasn’t until I was IN the dentist chair waiting for her to do the work on the left side of my mouth that she announced she was doing the front teeth first, and then explained why. I don’t remember the explanation. I do remember that getting the front teeth done involved 6-8 weeks worth of going in for appointments. I had temporary crowns for over a month, after which… instead of being done, I still needed more work done. I was really unhappy with the poor communication on the part of my dentist… and so when the work was finally done… I resolved to find another dentist.

And so I did. I went for a dentist that’s within 10 minutes of my house, but in Saratoga. My reasoning: They cater to wealthy people, so they’re likely to be better funded, and therefore better behaved and used to actually listening to their patients. That was the idea, anyways. I was very happy with my first few visits to this office. I had neglected my teeth a tad longer than I ought to have, but it hadn’t been more than perhaps a year… and hygienist didn’t lecture me, and everyone was, for the most part, fairly pleasant. They did though, discover one more tooth that needed a crown. *sigh*

The real problem though, came when they finally had the permanent crown to put on. When they took the temporary off, it HURT. I mean, I was no newbie to crowns, right? I had several (at least 5) in my mouth already. So I told them that it hurt. They assured me that it was merely tender, and that the pain was temporary and should go away in a couple of weeks. I insisted that it hurt more than any of my other crowns had. Well, what did I want to do? That’s what they asked me. I deferred to their judgement. They were the experts. They put the crown on. The pain never went away. I still don’t chew on that side of my mouth.

Six month later, I was laid off from my job. And so of course, I haven’t been back to a dentist since. No insurance and surviving (barely) on unemployment, made going to the dentist really low priority. Then, about four weeks ago, I was eating a bagel when one of the crowns (one of my four front teeth) fell out. I won’t go into how difficult that’s been to deal with. I started a new job two weeks ago, and resolved to find a dentist to put the tooth back in. Hahaha… wow, was I naive.

I didn’t really want to go back to my old dentist, so first I found a promising dental office, and attempted to make an appointment as a new patient. I was told the first available appointment was in September. Not really wanting to wait that long just to start the process, which I knew was going to require a full exam and x-rays to start with, I reluctantly called my old dentist instead. The receptionist I spoke with was reasonably pleasant, and made me an appointment for Monday the 16th in the evening. Then, I received a call from that office the following day: An error had occurred, and they needed to re-schedule my appointment. How was 11am the following day? Frustrated, I explained to this new receptionist that a mid-day appointment wouldn’t work for me, because I needed to work either before or after my appointment. Well then, she said, the first available evening appointment would be in September.

There are no words to describe my frustration at that moment. I don’t remember what I said, but I believe I expressed incredulity in some fashion, and the receptionist afterward offered me an appointment for Tuesday (yes, that was today), at nearly the same time as my original appointment had been on Monday. Yes, I said… that will work. Mentally, I was frustrated and upset and wondering why the #@$)(#@* she hadn’t offered me that in the first place.

This brings us to today. I kept trying to be positive and tell myself, ‘hey, you don’t like going, but maybe it won’t be so bad, and it’s the first step to fixing the tooth… and you really want that tooth fixed.’ Positive thinking, right? I got to the dentist office 5 minutes late, because traffic was a bit heavy on the way back from work. I checked in and sat down to wait. After maybe 10-15 minutes, the receptionist called me up and had me pay. Ooookay. I’ve never before been asked to pay before I receive a service before… but whatever. So I paid. 5-10 minutes later, I’m still sitting there, so I tell the receptionist I’ll be in the bathroom for a few minutes. After that, I sat back down to wait some more. My appointment was at 5:30pm. At 6:20pm I queried the receptionist to ask if they were running really late, or if I’d somehow missed them calling my name. It was 6:50 or so before they called me back. I didn’t grow any less agitated or anxious during that hour and a half wait.

After they took my X-rays, they sat me in a chair to wait for the dentist. I don’t even know the name of the dentist that I saw, but if I never see him again in my lifetime, that will suit me fine. His first comment on walking into the room was to say something about me missing a tooth. So I showed him the crown which had fallen out, and the empty spot in my mouth. He told me, as the technician already had, that I was mistaken in thinking the crown had simply fallen out. The reality was that the tooth had broken. This was startling to me. The tooth broke?! I was trying to process how and why that would have happened, so I commented, “I don’t see what I could have done to break it.” The dentist seemed incredulous now, “You don’t see what you could have done? You used it!” Like it’s something I should expect that a permanent crown is going to cause the tooth to break because I use it? WHAT THE #@$)(#@*????!!!!

The dentist continued to act as if I was stupid for being surprised by this. He also made comments like, ‘Well, you’ve had a lot of dental work done, haven’t you?’ I wasn’t responding anymore. I was still trying to figure out why he was acting like I was an idiot for not having any expectation that a tooth with a crown on it would break simply from using it. By the time he walked out of the room for a few minutes, I was struggling to hold back tears. Eventually, he came back and explained that whoever had done the crowns on two of my front teeth had simply done a root canal and a crown, with no post. Apparently, on front teeth especially, posts are needed to ensure the crowns don’t cause the teeth to break off. (How any of this was my fault, I still can’t figure out.) After he finished explaining this, and I got my tears under control, I told him about the other crown which still caused me pain. In for a penny, in for a pound, right? If he’s finding that one dentist did shoddy work, maybe he can tell me what’s wrong with that tooth, too?
He offered to have their root canal specialist take a look at it, but then expressed that, basically, he couldn’t understand why I was acting like I was victimized. Didn’t I want them to try and help me? Why was I in tears? Why did I perhaps sound somewhat hostile? What I finally said, when I could speak, was: “If you want me to make a decision, please present me with some options.” What I wanted to say, though…

Dear Dentist: You just told me someone did shoddy work on my teeth, and that in order to fix the broken tooth, it will cost me over a thousand dollars. More, that another tooth was similarly shoddily done, and if I don’t have that one re-done also, it will probably break off eventually too. So, basically – someone messed up my mouth, and it’s going to cost thousands of dollars I don’t have, when I don’t even have insurance, to fix it. AND YOU’RE ASKING ME WHY I’M ACTING LIKE I’VE BEEN VICTIMIZED?! ARE YOU A COMPLETE IDIOT?!

After I asked for options, he left the room, and the assistant took over. I was, honestly, happy to see him go. I calmed down enough to listen to options, get a sheet with the recommended treatment plan, and have her suggest payment plans, applying for credit (no thank you, I do not want more credit), and independent insurance I could possibly apply for. I signed her paperwork, and took the treatment plan with her name on top. Then I told her frankly (though I was still in tears) that I was less than impressed with a dentist who would tell me someone did shoddy work on my mouth and it was going to cost thousands of dollars to fix it, and then wonder why I was acting like a victim. It was possible I’d seek out a different dental office, but I wasn’t going to make a decision right at that moment.

I’ve been home for… a couple of hours now, and after writing all this down, I finally feel a bit more calm. I’m not in tears anymore. I could probably speak without starting up the tears again if I wanted to. And… it’s bedtime. I need to get ready for work tomorrow. However, if you’ve been reading my twitter and wondering why I hate going to the dentist SO VERY MUCH… well, now you know.

*I don’t use the word hate lightly in this instance. My stepfather is the only person in my life I’ve ever felt active hatred for.

**Wonderful stuff, laughing gas. When used properly. Too much of anything…

{ 4 } Comments

  1. Caity | August 18, 2010 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    : (

  2. Gayle Force | August 18, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    more {{hugs}}.

    i’m so sorry, lady.

  3. Kaitlyn | August 18, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    aghhh, I’m really sorry about your supremely sucky experiences. :( I’ve had some dentist angst lately, but nothing on the scale of yours. I hope you find a dentist who’s competent and non-douchey in the near future!

  4. Aelia | November 7, 2010 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Man, your hatred of dentists is far deeper than my mother’s.

    I pre-screen dentists for her, and explain that she needs pre-medication to even get through the door. If they’re still with me after that, I explain that she’s one of those patients that needs to be knocked out, and then they can do the work. And if they’re still with me by then, I’ll go in and talk to the dentist for her.

    She was in the dentist’s chair, and her pager went off (when pagers were still new) and her dentist *jumped* and drilled across the roof of her mouth. She’s been fairly phobic since.

    We’ve found some very, very good, gentle dentists. And that lady I told you about earlier today. When I find her contact info, I’ll get it to you. (*hug*)

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