The Dentist Menace


I avoided it for years.

Mentally I knew the pain that it involved. In the deepest reaches of my mind, I could hear the sound of the machine–a medieval torture device even the Spanish Inquisition would have found terrifying.

Staring up into the light, waiting for my torture to begin, I felt like a cadaver—minus the dead part.

My mind was on overdrive.

What was I doing here? I’d avoided this place for years, why all of a sudden was this a good idea?

My cortisol levels are through the roof right now. I hope they don’t have to use “the machine.”

At the mere thought of my coming torture, a slithering serpent of pain meandered its way from my brain to my toes.

There was no turning back now.

Full Steam Ahead

I was already in the chair, the bib was over my head, and I could hear the clink of shoes approaching.

When I informed the dental hygienist of how sensitive my teeth were, she laughed. Not a mean laugh, but that kind of laugh your mom gives you when she knows you’re being ridiculous as a kid.

She remained calm and informed me it would all be okay.

To ease my fear, she tried to learn more about me. Asking a whole range of questions about where I was from, what I do, and other bits of small talk.

Her voice was soothing, but I still felt I was on the verge of peeing myself like a baby.

I told her I was more terrified in this moment than the time I asked my father in law if I could marry his daughter.

This provoked another small giggle from her.

She said if it hurt she could numb my gums.

She numbed them. It didn’t work.

Due to my odontophobia, all those years of avoiding the dentist had led to some build up around my gums and recessions of the bone underneath.

“Well it’s a good thing you came in now, because if you’d waited 5 more years you’d probably start losing some teeth”

My mind exploded with scenes of walking around as a toothless hillbilly explaining how to hip hinge to clients. She wasn’t helping my phobia with that comment.

To ease my fear, I decided humor was a better option than panic.

She mentioned that my condition was somewhat reversible, especially the gingivitis.

“You can cure my gingervitus?”
“No, gingivitis. You’re stuck being a ginger.”
“Damn.”

Dentist

Face Your Fear

Still, the thought of being in my 30s and losing teeth is terrifying.

I enjoy a good protein shake. But the thought of never being able to chow down on a steak again, to taste the tender succulent gloriousness of a ribeye, sucks.

Since I had my braces removed in college, I’ve had super sensitive teeth. The last time I had been to the dentist, I wept in the chair the entire time they worked on my mouth.

Not only was it a painful experience, but it was embarrassing.

Little did I know I was making a huge mistake by avoiding the dentist.

To fix my issues, we had to schedule two more visits. This way they could numb one side of my face, clean my teeth, and get deep into my gums to clean them.

Most of that could have been avoided had I not been for my odontophobia.

What’s Up Doc?

I’m not the only person who is terrified of the dentist. Anywhere from 5-10% of American adults have a dental phobia.

Healthy teeth, however, are actually an important part of our overall health. So I asked my doctor, Dr. Mark Fisher, about the importance of dental health.

The one thing we need for people to understand is their dental health can affect their overall health. There have been several studies done that have shown gum disease can cause heart disease to get worse, can cause diabetes to become or stay unstable, and in severe cases, untreated tooth infection can enter into the blood stream. 

If you want to read the studies that have covered this, you can read them here, here and here. Home care, however, is one are Dr. Fisher said most everyone needs improvement on.

Most of the time patients need to improve their home care. You always need to brush twice a day, especially at night & floss. Flossing is the one thing most people don’t do. Which can lead to cavities in between the teeth, gingivitis which is the first step to gum disease, and possible bone loss.

This is what happened to me. Even though I was flossing every night, I wasn’t flossing correctly. Oh and ya know, that whole skipping the dentist thing. That didn’t help either.

You should see your dentist every 6 months for a cleaning and checkup. We recommend having x-rays once a year so we can keep an eye on bone level & check for decay (cavities) in between the teeth.

If you do not go in for a long period of time you can develop cavities, abscess which is an infection at the root of the tooth, broken teeth that need to be extracted, etc. If you go for an extended period of time without a cleaning you could develop gum disease and require a deep cleaning or worse could lose some teeth. 

This is going to sound awful, but the last time I’d been to the dentist was probably 2007. For 9 years, I avoided the dentist and if I had kept avoiding it by 35 I would probably be a toothless hillbilly—minus the mullet.

DentistSo Fresh and So Clean Clean

I’ll be honest, if humanity lands on Mars, creates the Oasis from Ready Player One, cures cancer, but the dentist still has to use a Medival grinder on my teeth to clean them, I’m gonna be a little disappointed.

Through this experience, as terrifying as it was, I learned three things:

  • Most of us don’t floss deep enough
  • Dental health matters
  • Whiskey doesn’t kill bacteria in your mouth. So drinking more won’t prevent dental visits
    *I asked my hygienist this…she didn’t laugh*

The guests I interview on the podcast and what I write here primarily focuses on physical fitness and nutrition.

Of course eating a healthy diet and staying active is crucial, but there are other aspects of our overall health we should take into consideration as well.

Considering that our dental health can also tie back into our physical health it’s vital that you make it a priority.

For the cost of two burritos at Chipotle in NYC or the cost of a 5 venti iced coffees at Starbucks you could pick up dental insurance here.

If your company offers dental and you’re not buying it for the meager few dollars they charge, don’t be like me—be smarter—and opt into the dental plan and get to your dentist.

If you suffer from odontophobia, talk to your dentist about your fears. There are options they can take to make your visit less painful, because trust me, as much as I hate the dentist, I’d hate never being able to eat a steak again.

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