Is it the fact that the chair goes completely flat, and you lose perspective on the room? or that huge, glaring light that burns into your eyes? What about those shiny, metal instruments that lie in wait, a mere six inches from your nervous, salivating gums?
I know, of course, that it’s one of those things we have to deal with, every six months. And that when it’s over and done with, the next visit will seem light years away and can be shoved back into the drawer of items-we-don’t-talk-about-for-now. But the minute that small white card plops onto the doormat, we gasp with collective horror for the dreaded half-yearly dental check-up has arrived! Yikes. Here we go again.
The thing is… I just can’t stop being fearful of going to the dentist. Even for a check up. Wish I could. Some people are far less bothered and I’d love to be one of them.
It all started when, as a child, I decided to “pull a fast one” in school and on impulse, told teacher that I too had a check-up which (coincidentally) meant leaving school at 10am to head across with my best friend. Dental check-ups, in those days were rare, you see. There was no such thing as ‘going every few months’, still isn’t really, in Ireland. You went to the dentist only when there was an urgent need to do so and your mother’s whisky-soaked cotton wad had failed to rid you of toothache the night before.
Having watched various school pals take entire mornings off, for ‘the dentist’, I decided I wanted in on the act. And in on the act I got. By the time the hopelessly old-fashioned dentist had shot my gums full of anaesthetic with what looked and felt like a monstrosity of a needle, then left me shivering in a freezing waiting room for half an hour before drilling ferociously into two teeth – I had moved firmly into the camp of dentist-haters. And there I have lived, ever since. Dreading each visit, postponing it if feasible and thankful that I’ve seldom needed much done.
By the time I had children, I was determined not to pass on my fears. Cheerily leading them in, I smiled as best I could, tried not to gag at the medicinal smell and told them they had nothing to worry about. But fools they are not, and although they’re less nervous than I am, it stays a challenge, when all is said and done.
Last week was ‘check-up week’. My son, who frequently needs teeth filled, manned up to ‘going last’. My daughter and I go in together. Strength in numbers. By now we have our own code: if she needs me to kick in with moral support, a well timed interruption or mild objections she’ll move her left foot twice.
As the dentist worked his way around her gums, I stayed alert. With maybe three teeth left to check we heard some of the dreaded words from behind the scary mask, “M3, distal, make a note for next time”. The left foot stayed still but the right one twitched. I held my breath and readied myself for battle, “but I think we’re good for now” he finished.
And exhale. For six more months.