Note: If you have an intense dental fear, this post may trigger anxiety for you.
12 more days.
Just 12 more days until I go have the root canal that I have put off for 2 years. My heart starts picking up speed just thinking about it, and my old friend dread comes whooshing back, making me feel as though I have a kettle bell in my stomach. I would give anything to not have to have it done.
I don’t usually write too much about my own specific anxiety related issues. I think most of my fears and phobias are just “brain junk” and to acknowledge them in any way is giving them far more attention than they deserve and just keeps them hanging around longer. I know they aren’t real, so I refuse to treat them as if they are real.
However, every now and then I have issues with a fear that I think falls in the “real” category. I know it’s not just my subconscious trying to lure me in with random nonsense – I know its something that the real me is afraid of.
Getting a root canal done definitely falls in the “real fear” category for me. So, I figured it would be a good idea to blog about it and vent some of these feelings I am having. I want to journal it out, and also show other people who are scared of root canals that they are not alone and that you aren’t silly for feeling dramatic about your fears. I get it and I am right there with you.
I never used to have a dental phobia. I used to fear everything else in the world….but never the dentist. I LOVED the dentist. They were always so nice to me at the dentist’s office and I got lots of attention, shiny clean teeth, and a new toothbrush. My childhood dentist, Dr. Wahl, was such a nice man and he even made getting a cavity filled a fun experience. Putting in a “silver bullet” is what he used to call it. He used to tell me silly jokes while working on my teeth, while I stared at all the cute and funny pictures he had on the ceiling. And I got to get out of school early for all this fun! Seriously, what was not to love?
Then I grew up and switched dentists.
That is when it stopped being so fun.
My new “adult” dentist told me one day that one of my lovely “silver bullets” needed to be removed and replaced with a new filling.
I was nervous. I hadn’t had a filling since I was a child and I had grown into an adult who latched onto the potential worst of every situation. But I didn’t get overly worked up. I had never had a problem with a dental procedure before, so why would I have one now? So after receiving the novocaine, the dentist got to work.
There was just one problem – I wasn’t numb.
I felt the pain immediately. I yelled out and slammed my hand on the chair and when the dentist took the drill out of my mouth I said “I am not numb”. She gave me a quizzical look and said something along the lines of “Hmm, really? That’s interesting.”
Then, I am not kidding you, she put the drill back in my mouth started drilling again and said “Do you feel this?”
Back came that shooting pain.
My voice started shaking and my eyes instantly welled up with tears.
“Yes.” , I said. “I feel it.”
Again, I got the same “quizzical” look she had given me the first time.
I wasn’t so upset about the pain, although it did hurt, as I was upset with the fact that she gave me no warning that she was going to turn that drill on again, and that she was treating me like I was just being a hysterical patient who was being overly dramatic.
Situations like this make me wonder if I really AM being too dramatic or if my response is justified, and the way she was treating me was making me feel as thought this was “all my fault”.
I could only see her eyes because she had her mask on, but I will never forget the looks those eyes were giving me. After she moved past “quizzical”, she moved to a look that said, “I am trying to look sympathetic, but really I think you are being ridiculous.”, and she very slowly and somewhat condescendingly said “Okayyyyyy, I will give you some more Novocaine.” Then she gave me more Novocaine, waited a bit, and then tapped on my tooth.
She said “Do you feel that?”
I said “I feel something. I don’t know if it’s that I am feeling the tapping or I am feeling pressure from the tapping. I don’t know.”
I was VERY nervous and flustered at this point and shaking like a leaf which I could tell was only fueling her belief that I was just a nervous person who was over reacting about all of this and being dramatic.
She said “I am going to try again. Just raise your hand if you feel anything.”
She started drilling.
I felt the pain AGAIN.
I yelled out again and raised my hand up and she sat up and took her mask off and looked at me and said “You felt that?”
And I said “Yes, I know I felt that.”
I don’t remember exactly what she said at this point, but it was something like, “I have been a dentist for X amount of years and I have never had this happen before.” And in my head I was thinking “Well it’s happening now, lady!”
I really just wanted to get up and get out of that chair and never go back.
But I was not the type to make a fuss back then. Not even the fear of tremendous pain could have made me cause a scene and get up and leave. Plus, I didn’t know what kind of shape my tooth was in at this point, and whether or not part of my filling was gone after the small amount of drilling she had done. So I stayed in that chair as she offered to try to numb me up some more.
At this point, I was starting to worry that I had so much Novocaine in me that once it all kicked in, my face would stay numb forever.
I remember nervously asking her if anybody had ever NOT un-numbed after a dental procedure. Looking back, I am not sure that question really helped me seem less like a dramatic over-reactor in her eyes. But at any rate she assured me it would be fine and she made me sit quietly and calm down for about 15 minutes, then gave me a THIRD injection of Novocaine, which DID start to work.
I felt the glorious heaviness kick in throughout my face and jaw and I was so relieved, but I was still clutching the arms of that chair with the tightest grip I could muster throughout that entire procedure, because I was so afraid of feeling those awful painful zaps again.
I don’t know what happened that day, and I don’t think that my dentist knows exactly what happened that day, but whatever it was, my childhood love of going to the dentist was gone.
Needless to say, I switched dentists again.
I don’t necessarily think that what happened was my former dentist’s fault, but I definitely didn’t like the way she responded to what happened, so I knew I was never going to go back to her again.
I switched to my current dentist, and thankfully he is a kind, gentle man who has never caused me a second of pain in all the years I have known him. Of course I have never had to have any more fillings since that bad appointment years ago, but regardless, I still think he is wonderful and over time I slowly stopped thinking about what had happened that day. Everything was fine and I had almost gotten to the point where I could go to the dentist without feeling nervous.
But then I went in for an appointment a few years ago and was told I would need a root canal.
A ROOT CANAL.
I think my brain may have shut down on me for a few seconds upon hearing that news. My mind doesn’t go blank very often – I am never without a million thoughts going on at one time – but at that moment, I think all of my brain activity just froze up while those words hung there waiting for some part of my brain to open up and accept them.
My dentist asked me if I had ever injured one of my front teeth and I told him no. He said I must have at some point, because I had developed some slight discoloration that he could clearly see. He shined a lot through the back of it and said that it would definitely need a root canal.
At that moment my brain kicked back into gear and I immediately started scanning the past 40 years of my life trying to figure out who or what I could blame for this, and plot my revenge against. I came up empty. Maybe it wasn’t as serious as he had thought. Maybe he was mistaken?
“Why do I need a root canal?” I asked. “It’s not giving me any problems and I can barely see any discoloration from the front.”
“Because its dead.” , he said.
“Dead? Are you sure?” I asked.
He said “Yes”. Then he stuck something cold on it and held it there for about 20 seconds. “Do you feel that?” he asked me. “No.”, I said, feeling relived and thinking that no sensitivity was a positive sign.
“Well, that’s because its dead.” , he replied.
“Ohhhh”, I thought. He meant DEAD dead.
Now that denial was over, I moved straight to the “bargaining” stage.
I suggested that since it didn’t look or feel bad at this point, why would I need a root canal? Maybe if I took good care of it, it would all be okay. There was no need to jump into anything hasty!
That is when he told me that if I didn’t get the root canal, the tooth would eventually start causing me problems, and possibly become infected.
“Is that all?”, I asked? Couldn’t I just wait until there was sign of an infection and then take care of it? And he told me that I could do that if I wanted to, but he didn’t recommend it. And that even if I did wait, and the tooth didn’t get infected, it would probably become darker and darker, and become quite noticeable.
DAMN! I knew I was screwed.
You would think that fear of an abscess would be enough to scare me into a root canal but nope. It was the fear of a big black tooth. Vanity is my Achilles’ Heel. I’m not proud of it, but its true.
If All Else Fails…..Stall
I scheduled the root canal for a few months later but when the time came….my tooth was no darker, and there was no sign of infection.
So I put it off.
I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but maybe my tooth was a “special” case, I reasoned. Maybe my tooth wouldn’t get darker or infected. Sounded perfectly reasonable to me!
I waited another year, saw my dentist again and he told me I really should go in and get the root canal done. He basically said I was asking for big trouble if I did not have this thing done.
So I said “I’ll do it”, and I got the referral slip for the endodontist. I went home and scheduled the appointment for a few months down the road so I would have time to mentally prepare myself. But guess what? A few more months passed and I still wasn’t having any problems and the tooth wasn’t any darker.
So I put it off again.
I am such a coward.
A few months ago I said “No, Lisa. You are not putting this off anymore. You ARE doing this.” I made the appointment for the end of January.
Seeing as how it is now February, you can probably figure out that I cancelled that one too.
I know this endodontist’s office hates me.
Finally, I just got to that point of disgust that I am so familiar with. It’s that point of disgust at myself that is so awful, yet my biggest motivator…….a necessary evil, really. And I picked up the phone and I scheduled my root canal for February 22. Of this year. I really wanted to shoot for 2017, but no….I have to just do it now and get it over with. No more stalling. And by God, I am doing it!
I will NOT reschedule this appointment and that is one of the reasons I am writing this post. Once I publish it, there will be no turning back for me without having my readers know about it – so I will be locked in.
This post is the last I am going to mention how absolutely freaking TERRIFIED I am of this procedure.
This is the last that I am going to talk about my fear of passing out on my way into the exam room. This is the last I am going to talk about my fear of feeling pain so intense that it burns into my mind forever.
I always have a plan, and as soon as I stamp my name at the end of this post I am going to put my plan into action.
-I am going to spend the next two weeks telling myself I am going to be just fine.
-I am going to do affirmations reminding myself that I am a strong person.
-I am going to step up my deep breathing exercises and focus on muscle relaxation.
-I am going to be brave and positive and I am going to remind myself that there are people who have faced FAR worse than my silly old root canal and I should be able to handle myself with maturity and grace.
-I am going to educate myself and learn all I can about root canals. Maybe its like anxiety….just a little misunderstood. Maybe I just have to get to know all about them, and then they won’t seem so scary. (If you have first hand knowledge that I am not misunderstanding them at all, just know that at this point I am comfortable with my ignorance.)
I admit it does sound a a little ridiculous to making a battle plan over a root canal. But I am a “doer”. I don’t like to just sit around and have a problem hanging over my head. I have to somehow be doing something to give myself the sense that I am on top of things. In a situation like this, there are only two things I can “do” to give myself a sense of control. I can worry. Or I can plan. I don’t let myself indulge in worry games anymore. So I plan.
The other thing I have to do, whether I want to or not, is that I have got to put some trust in the endodontist who will be doing my procedure.
Trust is so hard for me to come by, especially in a situation like this, and especially when I have never met the person before. But I have to do it. On the day of my root canal, even if my nerves are still running at full steam and I am shaking like a leaf, I am going to stay calm and in control of myself. I will tell my endodontist of my past history and then I am going to trust that he knows exactly what he is doing and that I am going to be JUST fine.
And when I leave the office I am going to look at my husband and say “That was nothing! I can’t believe I made such a big deal out of it all this time.”, and I will give a little laugh at how silly I am and it will all be over.
Yes, starting in about 5 minutes, THAT will be my reality.
At least, that is what I am going to live as my reality until this is all over. Then when I get home and its all done I will come back and write a post about how things REALLY went down. But not a second before then will I speak a word of weakness or fear.
It’s the only way.
I will think nothing but strong, positive thoughts and I will tell myself nothing other than “I’ve got this. Piece of cake.”
At The “Root” Of It All
Is this dental fear of mine irrational?
I don’t know.
It feels kind of irrational to fear a dental procedure so much that I feel compelled to write a 3000 word blog post about it. In fact it feels very irrational when I consider the fact that I had two babies taken out of my womb at one time while I was wide awake and I never threw so much as a “Make sure I’m numb.” to my OB.
But it feels very rational when I think about how much pain I was in at that appointment of mine all those years ago, and how I felt completely belittled when I tried to speak up and stand up for myself.
I think that belittlement and that lack of compassion for what I was going through is probably a huge factor as to why I have this fear as intensely as I do.
It doesn’t matter though. Rational or irrational, the fear is still very real. It is coming from a real place inside me and whether it makes sense or not, I am not going to tell myself I am over reacting or being too dramatic about it. I am simply going to acknowledge my fear, and then stick to my plan and in 12 days it will be over one way or the other.
But before I put my name at the end of this post I just want to go on record one last time as saying:
“I AM SO SCARED TO HAVE THIS DONE!”
Okay. I have made my point. Feelings acknowledged. Attitude flip starts now.
February 22 can’t get here fast enough! I am having a root canal. Yay!
(And click here to find out how things went for me. 🙂 )
All Photos Except Rainbow Teeth: Pixabay
Rainbow Teeth Photo: Canstock