Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Dental health

So, I went to the dentist yesterday for the first time since, I believe, 2008 (my very first post on these pages was about that dentist, indeed, who was brilliantly rude). I don't know where all this fear has come from. Well, I sort of do - it was my last dentist in London who was basically a greedy, over-enthusiastic child in possession of a large number of sharp implements, and whose nurse once memorably exclaimed "Wow, that's a HUGE needle!" when I had my eyes shut, causing me to open them and observe that yes, indeed, it was the most gigantic needle in the history of fucking needles. Coming after several months of medical torment of various kind, including 2 general anaesthetics (hi, phobia number one, now wholly conquered!) and the second largest needle in the history of all needles being inserted into my knee without any anaesthetic at all, it tipped me over the edge and I had to sit in reception in the E1 Rapacious Dental Usurers Clinic and cry for half an hour, before boy scout ushered me back into his chair for more scrapey hook and drill based high-jinks.

Before that I was FINE: I had a completely buggered tooth fixed in Oxford by an extremely gloomy Scottish man without flinching. I had two of my wisdom teeth removed by a monosyllabic Chinese dentist above the Curzon Soho in about ten no-fuss minutes to the accompaniment of Cantonese soap opera. I had the third one removed by a man on Fleet Street who droned on distractingly for ages about all the things that might go wrong, then when none of them did, sent me back to my office, stoic, with a face full of bleeding drool (my boss didn't actually notice until someone came into the room, did a double take and went "CHRIST! What the hell's wrong with your trainee??" True story). I had infections, broken teeth, the works and I took my punishment and its bitter Corsodyl chaser without flinching.

But since the E1 Enormous Needle Incident, I am dental jelly. I am a dental wreck. This is conceptually problematic for me, because in my own head, I like to think of myself as being fairly nails when it comes to medical stuff. On top of that, even if I wasn't, I have seen my friends and family go through such biblically nasty medical stuff in recent years, I should have been shamed into being robust at a teeny tiny, ridiculous whizzy drill. I mean, my brother had sections of his SKULL drilled off. Even major root canal surgery is piddlingly ridiculous when you think about that. Even so, I had to accept the craven, pathetic truth: I was scared, properly, pathetically scared.

'The fear is worse than the reality' I would tell myself, bracingly. But then an unhelpful part of me would add 'except when it's NOT AT ALL' and go off on a lurid tangent thinking about all the hideous dental eventualities a check up might discover, and another six months would go by without me going near a man with a face mask and rubber gloves. Basically, my approach to dental issues in the last four years has been to ignore my mouth as far as humanly possible, self-medicating with Nurofen and clove oil (does clove oil do anything? I am dubious, it sounds like a sop to the peasants before the blacksmith removes all their teeth to me) as required. But since both my children are now getting complex orthodontic shit done to their tiny mouths, I thought I really ought to (hmmm why are expressions of bravery related to masculinity? 'Man up'. 'Grown a pair', etc. Patriarchy? Get out of my paragraph) .. woman up. Then I read Bim's essay about her unbelievably hideous gum surgery in a semi-swoon and I thought about how whatever ghastly happenings might be festering in my mouth, they would only be getting worse then longer I left them.

So I went, and it really wasn't so bad, once I had stopped whimpering with the medieval peasant belief that the x-ray (witchcraft!) would reveal that every single one of my teeth was wobbling in a soup of putrefaction. As it turned out, this was not even the case,though I probably would have deserved it to be so. So. I have Conquered My (Pathetic) Fear, and albeit I have to go back next week for a modest amount of ouchy stuff (and after that the dentist has vowed to refer me to his colleague in the "uh oh, your jaw is a bit fucked by all that tooth-grinding, here have some really expensive orthodontic work" department), I feel that euphoric surge of superhuman possibility you get when you do something you have been putting off a really, really long time. On top of that, I recently went to the "Commune" (dusty administrative edifice, built on layers of outsider despair and foolscap forms) and completed an 8 month overdue piece of admin and the combined effect is that I feel PURE. Still bleeding from 8000 places in my hideous receding gums, I whirled round the house in a frenzy of virtuous enthusiasm. Maybe I could pay off my HSBC credit card! (no, I couldn't) Write my thank you letters from 1989! Work out where the fuck my tax bill from 2010 has gone! CLEAN THINGS. I am in that mental space where you vow that you will NEVER allow this to happen again, and when you write six monthly oral hygiene checks into your diary with the zeal of the new convert. In a couple of months, all of this - the miasma of disproportionate, looming guilt and anxiety, and the wave of relief and realisation that I am in fact an idiot - will have receded and I will skulk back into my old ways. "I'll just clean them with this twig". "I flossed last month". "They don't feel bad". Until then it is a glorious (if, admittedly, expensive) world of virtue and possibility.

Tell me I am not alone in this, swithering from hyper, administrative euphoria to grubby, can't be arsed torpor within days. Or tell me I am, if you must.


paola said...

Let's just say that I am glad you went to my dentist, so that now he knows I am not the only one? Mind you, he did tell me once that he had another patient who (like me) demanded anaesthetic prior to teeth cleaning, indeed prior to coming to within an arm's length of the chair...

Mrs Jones said...

You have ovaries of steel, woman! I personally go to the nicest dentist in the world who is so gentle you barely feel him touching you. That sounds bad, but you know what I mean. He even slaps on a blob of local anaesthetic on your gum before approaching with a needle.

And, yes, I always come back and zealously floss for about a week before I think 'fuck it, my next appointment's not for 6 months....'

Alienne said...

I can't even manage to floss for a week! I end up doing it once - the morning of my next appointment.

I too have that surge of joy and enthusiasm when I have done something I have been putting off for ages (usually at work I have to admit) but it rarely lasts past the next working day - and then only if they are consecutive. If there is a weekend in between no chance.

Monica said...

The enthusiasm lasts a day, if I'm lucky.

Aspasie said...

Ah some Microbiology background you probably don't want to hear/know:

Most of the organisms associated with plaque are either Facultative or Anaerobic. This means in the case of facultative their ok with oxygen...but the prefer to be without it, anaerobes need to go without.

So, in the early stages plaque at low levels is fairly harmless as it is still aerobic. It becomes serious when plaque (which is basically a biofilm) seals itself off. At this point it goes wild since its made itself a nice little anaerobic nest.

Moral of all this beeing, floss lots and use mouth wash. Brushing is good for outter surface plaque and should be done regularly (obviously) but flossing + mouth wash is brutual on your oral bioburden !

Aspasie said...

Ah some Microbiology background you probably don't want to hear/know:

Most of the organisms associated with plaque are either Facultative or Anaerobic. This means in the case of facultative their ok with oxygen...but the prefer to be without it, anaerobes need to go without.

So, in the early stages plaque at low levels is fairly harmless as it is still aerobic. It becomes serious when plaque (which is basically a biofilm) seals itself off. At this point it goes wild since its made itself a nice little anaerobic nest.

Moral of all this beeing, floss lots and use mouth wash. Brushing is good for outter surface plaque and should be done regularly (obviously) but flossing + mouth wash is brutual on your oral bioburden !

Wanstead Birder said...

I last went to the dentist in October 2008, just before I lost my job. I am now employed again and I am booked in for March 21st and I AM NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO IT ONE FUCKING BIT.

Nellig said...

That was the best bit of dental literature I've read since Martin Amis's memoir.

Aspasie, why does plaque go so HARD?

Anonymous said...

Fuck me, reading your post about dental fear was like reading the inside of my head.
I had a tooth, it had a filling which fell out whilst I was chewing gum on the M23. The filling stuck to my chewing gum, I freaked out. 2 years later I finally faced the fear and dealt with the hole. (during that two years I got so used to hole I could poke my tongue in!). I have 3 boys and wanted to prove to them that I am a responsible adult who GOES to the dentist as a matter of fact, not a pathetic wreck (which I am, really, most of the time).
I remember my last cigerette and strong coffee in the shed before I went to my appointment (obviously I brushed in a vigourous, minty manner after), I remember thinking next time I see the shed I will have had the tooth out!
Everyone said it will be ok, it is not that bas, just a pulling, tugging feeling. I stupidly believed them.
I won't drone on but lets just say, I broke down in the 'chair'. The assistant had to wipe my tears as the dentist yanked, I needed an after care phone call, such was my deranged behaviour and the cherry on the cake was meeting my husband in sunglasses and a fat mouth to be walked home in case I fainted.
I spent 2 days in bed, ate only broccoli and stilton soup, which took an hour and basically looking back behaved like a complete imbecile, but it hurt and I was traumatised.
I was due to go back for a bridge, 6 months later I still have a gaping gap and I am still too scared.
Voile, my story, not proud, but true.

Rosie Redfield said...

Best motivation for regular flossing: Floss after a long time of not-flossing, then smell the gunk that the floss picked up. This is where stinky breath comes from, and flossing every time you brush your teeth will keep it away.

Johnners said...

I once heard a dentist say you should only floss the teeth you want to keep, which gave me pause... I have had lots of dental work (thank you dad and your rubbish genes!) and it's always been OK, up until the last dentist, who obviously smoked loads and whose hands therefore stank of stale fags, in my mouth. Even through the gloves. Urgh. My enthusiasm for flossing, or anything else, never lasts long, then the intertia kicks in again. Thank God.

Anonymous said...

I also have just made an appointment for dental checkup (the last one in 2009 apparently!) It's partly economics that made me put it off - so darned expensive, but potentially even worse if delayed too long. My dad was a fabulous father, but set a very bad example on how to deal with dentists. He made his appointments in the earliest morning, so that the dentist would be bright and fresh (not tired and distracted). Also so my dad had less time to work himself into a frenzy of anguished anticipation (although I suspect he'd been doing that all night anyway). He would make hang-dog faces and literally whimper over breakfast about his impending doom. Of course who knows what terrible experiences he'd had to drive him to this, but he always seemed to survive OK!
Heather (NZ)

WrathofDawn said...

You are not alone. We all fall into mental "never again" phases after one success.

Many people have a phobia regarding dental work. Not me personally. I reserve my irrational fear for flying. *shudder*

Still, very brave of you to face the dentist.

MsCaroline said...

I do just fine at the dentist, as long as I know I'm going to be unconscious or numb. It's getting my increasingly-sensitive teeth cleaned (for which they don't provide any anesthesia - at least in the US) that sends me into a state of panic. I'd take gum surgery over a cleaning any day.

Patience_Crabstick said...

I am terrified of the dentist too. I am so afraid of the dentist that I'm even afraid to take my children to the dentist. And then, when I've actually been the the dentist (after months of worry) I get that same burst of enthusiasm, and daily flossing that lasts about 1 week.

I've been trying to analyze why so many people are afraid of the dentist. It's not so much the pain--it's far less painful than childbirth, after all and yet so much more terrifying. I think it's because you're incredibly vulnerable with your mouth open, and unable to talk.

I went to google to try and get help for my dental phobia and all the sites I found were aimed at dentists!

Margaret said...

You've read Hyperbole and a Half, right? She does a whole post on Being an Adult and how long that shit lasts. Was 2008 the last Year We Went to the Dentist? Because Stephen Lim DDS has left me three happy birthday voicemails since my last visit. I don't really have a phobia, I'm just lazy. Although the super-adorable hygienist savaged my gums during that last cleaning and basically scared me straight into flossing every morning (try floss sticks! they kick ass), even though every night would be better but I cannot fit that into my nighttime regimen. Aspasie, I don't want to hear about it. Yes, I do--it's way better to do it at night, right? Can I still drink wine after or does that cancel it out?

frau antje said...

Having made a fair amount of models, I can't help but admire the work of a good dentist. The best was a grumpy guy from South Africa, the worst a German, though his manner was lovely. The tongue notices everything, he would cheerfully respond (Die Zunge merkt alles). An extremely close second was a woman in San Francisco with the hands of an angel, whose young trainee told me how much nitrous you need for a party (not because I asked).

I heard twigs can be used for flavoring liquor, perhaps we need twig flavored floss.

beagle, true-bred said...

@Margaret: Thanks for reminding me of that excellent Hyperbole cartoon which I will now re-purpose ("Use TePe brushes -- like an ADULT!"). I'm still scared of all that initial blood-letting and the accompanying dull ache, though. I was doing so well, too, and then a three-week trip to a place with questionable drinking water (can't rinse those leetle TePe brushes in THAT, can you) completely derailed me. Sigh.
Waffle, have you read Jane Smiley's "The Age of Grief"? Lovely and sad, about love, and marriage with children, and adultery, and the protagonists are two dentists. Features a dental hygienist who admonishes patients with the line "You want your gums to turn to cotton candy?" which has always given me pause. No! No, I don't want that!!

Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes said...

You should never ever open your eyes in the dental chair. Never.
And yes, the dentist is not my favorite hang out either, personally I' rather have a naked mud wrestling match with Bart De Wever.

Bob the Water Cat said...

Once every 7 years, whether they need it or not.

It will longer this time since the last visit (3 days) was nighmarish as well.

Sarah said...

Who knew I had an oral bioburden! That said I floss and do the TeePee brushes thing, but that's partly because I had an effing expesive dental implant a few years ago (which, being essentially a false tooth on a screw, isn't affected by plaque, but who mentioned logic?)

If you ever move back to London, I have the loveliest dentist in the world. It's an all female practice and she's like Mary Poppins (in a good way). I avoided the dentist for about 10 years before going to her, so I'm with Mrs Jones on you having ovaries of steel!

Jessica said...

I saw the dentist last year. He did nothing. Not a cleaning, no scraping, nothing. How is that work? We're trying another one this year.

I am going to dream about my bioburden going wild tonight. I just know it. :(

Sewmouse said...

During my childhood in the late 50's and early 60's, dentists were taught that "baby teeth" had no feeling, as they had no roots.

So all the fillings, cleanings, scrapings, etc. were done without benefit of any anesthetic.

I hate dentists. I hate the whine of the drills. I have panic attacks when the chair tilts back.

I suppose I can live on mashed potatoes and applesauce once they all fall out.

bevchen said...

I haven't been to a dentist in nearly 10 years. I'm now terrified that if I DO go they'll take one look at my teeth and tell me every oe is rotten and needs to come out. Eeek! I also don't want to go to a German dentist. What if they say things I don't understand?! The horror!