Until Tuesday, I had not been to the dentist since graduating from college. Would you like to hear my excuses? I rehearsed them in preparation for the interrogation I expected to undergo during my appointment.
- I moved across the country and started my first real job. Even though I had medical and dental insurance, I had never been responsible for finding my own providers or filling out paperwork. I used the student health services a couple of times, but I still went to my pediatrician through college. I wasn’t ready for that aspect of adulting.
- I only gained practice managing my health care during emergencies. I didn’t go for annual exams, so I never resumed the habit of going to a doctor or dentist. I was young and healthy, so I didn’t see the point of going.
- As years passed and I changed jobs, I prioritized my other health concerns (and the health issues of other family members) over my teeth since I had a limited number of vacation days. Who wants to use a day off to go to a dentist?
- I just didn’t want to spend the money. I know – who knows how much money I wasted on dental insurance without ever taking advantage of the coverage. Still, it was good to know it was there in case of an emergency. But emergencies were the reason I didn’t go. I didn’t want to shell out for a copay in case some other need arose in our household.
You’ll notice that fear of the dentist wasn’t one of my excuses. I had plenty of experience. There were cleanings every six months with cavities filled in between. Plus, I visited the orthodontist for the fitting, adjustment and eventual removal of my braces. That doesn’t even count the time spent with an oral surgeon to remove my wisdom teeth and treat my TMJ. Whining drills, whirring brushes and shots of novocaine don’t stir up anxiety.
This is only partially true. I was afraid of going to the dentist, but not because of potential discomfort.
I was afraid of being shamed.
Each passing year of not going made it more difficult to return. I’m a supposedly responsible adult. I live in a society with quality dental care. I’m privileged enough to have access to that care. Yet, fear of a lecture stopped me. Even more, I was worried I would cry during the lecture. I’m a thin-skinned, goody-two-shoes. That’s why I braced myself as I sat in the exam chair on Tuesday morning, silently chanting, Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.
The sad thing about all this is that I found myself in the office not because I finally grew up and decided to do the right thing, but because my husband needed to go. He was experiencing some pain and wanted me along to hear from the dentist about future procedures.
I expected Peter to be called back first, so I was startled to hear my name. I was led to the room and adorned with a paper bib. I waited to be grilled.
“So, you haven’t been to a dentist in a while,” the hygienist said. Before I could defend myself she went on, “but you’ve made it back now, right?”
I was relieved, but I still had to face the dentist himself.
And then he was there, looking at my file. He introduced himself and then began the questioning: “Did you have all four wisdom teeth pulled?”
When I nodded, he slashed through a diagram of these teeth on my chart. I prepared for the next query.
“Who was your orthodontist?”
“Um,” I hesitated. “I remember where his office was, but I can’t recall his name.” I wasn’t off to a good start.
He stared at my x-rays. I could see all of my fillings, but had no idea if any of the shades on the film revealed a cavity.
“Let’s take a look,” he said.
Before I knew it, I was sitting with my mouth open and he was scraping my teeth and poking my gums. He stepped away to take care of another patient and then returned to use the familiar electric brush and gritty paste to clean my teeth.
“Considering how long it’s been, you’re in good shape. You’ve taken good care of your teeth,” he concluded. “I’d say we can wait to see you in a year.”
I was stunned. I had expected the worse and been given the best. No judgment. No lectures. No, “you should haves” or “why didn’t yous.” He had accepted that I had missed out on twenty years of going to the dentist and just treated me where I was at.
That’s enough to make me smile.
Day 12 of NaBloPoMo/Nano Poblano/yeah write NoMo challenge!