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Random Life Experience #1: The Devil is in the Dentistry or How to Deal With Dental Anxiety

I’m starting a series of “Random Life Experiences Blogs” for my site. Please enjoy and know I can be a little odd at times.

I took my cat’s Xanax today.

She’s not going to need it. Barring an emergency evacuation, we aren’t going to travel with her any time soon.

But Xanax is now the only way I can survive a dental appointment. Why? Because when I was a child, nobody cared how children felt.

To the adults in my parent’s generation and above, you couldn’t reason with a child. If they squirmed or cried out in the dentist chair, it just indicated belligerence and never true discomfort or pain.

I suffered a lot of cavities as a child and young adult. I could have had an acidic mouth. Or maybe it was just the copious amounts of Mountain Dew Code Red I consumed as a middle-schooler. Either way, my dental office experiences were many.

For the longest time, my mother would order laughing gas during my procedures. Once a recreational drug in the 1920s, nitrous oxide eventually became the staple of some dental pain management styles. I don’t know what it’s supposed to do, but every time they placed that suffocation machine on my face, my world turned into a nightmare funhouse replete with mirrors, creepy clowns, and menacing buzzing bees.

The dentist would lie to me. He’d tell me, “if it hurts, just raise your hand and we’ll stop.” I would raise my hand. They wouldn’t stop. The assistant would force my hand down and the dentist would continue his infernal drilling. I swore once I saw the devil in his eyes.

Again, the assumption always seemed to be, “you can’t reason with a child, so why listen?”

I once found a decent dentist I felt I could trust. For a few years, I went to him and things were marginal. Some appointments were pain-free. Others not so much. I had to request another hygienist (these people can be more sadistic than any dentist “THIS. IS. HOW. YOU. FLOSS. YOUR. TEETH.” *leans into flossing motion and seemingly splits my jaw in half”).

For most of my life, dental visits were like a bad marriage. When more than 50% of your experiences are negative, you really should either fix something or file for divorce.

I divorced dentistry for about six years after moving away from the NW. Not only do I experience a little bit of social anxiety in new situations with professional strangers, I’m just terrified of dentistry by now.

Then I met my friend the dental hygienist. At first, I still procrastinated. Not only was I still having flashbacks to previous dental horrors, I was nervous about having a friend in my mouth. The only friends I’ve ever had in my mouth is my wife and former girlfriends.

But I eventually bit the drill. A tooth had chipped and needed repair.

I had recently read a few studies on pain management in dental procedures. Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my dentistry anxiety. Other people don’t like people sticking unpleasant things in their mouths too. And they found a correlation between patients who experience calm and patients who were nervous and the efficacy of dental anesthesia.

Those who were calm, the numbing agent worked properly. They needed fewer shots to numb the tooth. Those who experienced anxiety at the dentist needed multiple shots to numb the tooth and even then, the anesthetic only worked marginally.

Another studied the impact of anxiety medication on the efficacy of oral anesthetics in dentistry. They found that people who took the Xanax reported little to no pain after anesthetic and the people who took the sugar people reported a higher incidence of pain.

So, thank you Pebbles, for sharing your Xanax with me today. I promise you’ll have enough if we go on a trip together sometime. Just know that because of you, I felt next to nothing when the dentist was drilling away my old fillings.

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