Remember in the Return of the King when Aragorn nasally addresses the host of men before him and says, “I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me,” and then proceeds to try to talk them out of it, but when you look at them in their closeups most of them are still practically shaking in their boots because they know that the orcs of Mordor outnumber them by about 600 to one and there are trolls and they have the flaming eye of Sauron himself staring down from behind his army like, “Yeah, what?”
That fear? It’s kind of a good approximation of the feelings I feel inside when I am told I need invasive dental work.
I wasn’t always terrified of dentistry, really. I’m pretty sure I can pinpoint when and where it all began, though. There are two instances. The first being orthodontia, and the second being a tragic I-don’t-know-what of enormous magnitude that resulted in my needing a crown put in at the ripe old age of 22.
The first one was orthodontia. We’ll just say my initial setup was less than optimal. When I was about two years old I had this tragic accident involving a turtle-shaped table and my face, and the resulting situation was that my baby tooth dislodged the adult tooth above it, causing it to grow in a direction completely different from the direction that other people’s front teeth grow in. You can see it to the left, sort of. It stuck straight out and was a good extra-tooth distance from the rest of my teeth. It was hideous.
So in the fourth grade, once all the front six top teeth came in, the orthodontist slapped big ol’ braces on them and attached anchor loops to the molars and pulled that bad boy back in line.
This, of course, addressed the most visible concern, but then another one arose as I grew bigger and more adult-shaped and my upper jaw… didn’t. Turns out it was impossibly narrow! Once my adult teeth had all come in, the orthodontist then introduced — along with a full-mouth set of braces — a medieval torture device known as a widener.
This baby was enormous. It sat invasively in the roof of my mouth, and it had a keyhole in it that was matched with a key my mother used once a day for two weeks straight to turn a gear in it that would widen my jaw. It literally shoved the left side of my mouth further away from the right side of my mouth, two key-turns at a time. She was following orders from my orthodontist to crack the roof of my mouth down the middle and force it to heal itself over, only to be cracked open again the following night. I’ve seen pictures of medieval torture devices that didn’t look quite as awful as this thing felt. I remember a lot of crying.
Surely that was the end of my dental troubles, right? Right? Of course right!
Nope. While I was an undergrad, I went on one of my regular dental visits to find out that one of my molars had a cavity. It was your run-of-the-mill cavity, and they filled it on the spot and sent me on my merry way. But a few weeks later, I developed a toothache in that part of my jaw. This toothache got annoying pretty fast, so I went back to the dentist, who told me everything looked fine, and that he didn’t have an explanation for my toothache. He suggested I take aspirin and let him know if it got worse.
And it got worse. And worse. I went back to that dentist once again and told him some variation of, “Freaking figure out why it hurts or I’m going to light your hair on fire,” and yet he still maintained that it looked fine, and he had no idea what was going on. So naturally, I found another dentist.
The new dentist took one look at it and said, “Oh, wow. You’re going to need a root canal.”
Turns out the first dentist didn’t properly clean out that cavity I had before he sealed it up, so the thing just kept rotting away until it ate away the inside of my molar and busted out an abscess on the other side. Whether the first dentist saw the abscess or not is a mystery, but the point here is that I had a root canal at the age of 22 that, had my dentist not been a total screwup, I likely would not have endured. Also, a month-long toothache that was so bad I couldn’t chew solids and had to live on canned soup and water like a post-apocalyptic shelter-dweller.
So, naturally, I’m kind of wary of people in dentistry. You would be, too!
Which makes the announcement my dentist gave me a few weeks ago bring those men-at-the-Black-Gate fear feelings right back up: I have to have my wisdom teeth out. They came in late, but they came in, and I put off the procedure as long as I could. But when I went to the dentist a few weeks ago, he found a cavity in one of them. So it is time. It is time, and they are impacted, and I get to be put to sleep for the first time in my life, and they are going to take my teeth out piece by piece.
I… am not excited.