Fear, Humiliation, Undignified Conduct & Finally, Validation

I knew today was going to be a challenging one, but little did I know that an experience from 45 years ago would come back to haunt me.



We all have fears, right? Mine is a combination of claustrophobia and being unable to breathe. I don't have a 'dentist fear', except...over 40 years ago I had a terrible experience that involved a young arrogant dentist, a rubber dam and a lot of tears. I was 20'ish and not as willing to stand up for myself as I am today, meaning that I sat for 90 minutes, tears streaming down my face as this a-hole rolled his eyes and worked on my teeth. I left that office completely traumatized and never went back.


When I found a new dentist I immediately asked if they used the "rubber dam" and told him about my experience. He noted in large block letters on my chart, that this device was a no-go for me. (Until I started reading about it I had no idea it's been around since the 1800's! Truly a medieval torture device. I also found in the article that I could be described as a "Phobic and other psychologically limited patient" - ouch!). This is painful for a semi-high achiever who always wants to be a perfect patient. I believe my biggest issue is long term asthma, lots of breathing issues and sinuses that don't allow me to breath well through my nose. Makes sense doesn't it?






Years later, said kind & trusted dentist asked if we could try to use the dreaded RD, promised to work with me, cut a breathing hole in the rubber and give me breaks. It worked a few times and I made it through the appointments. I do remember one session years ago when, in my mind I was formulating an escape plan - could I get to my keys and run to the parking lot never to return, with a half done dental work? I came very close to bolting, but I silently talked myself down.


Back to yesterday - at this stage in my life I have a couple of large fillings that are deteriorating and need to be replaced, in this case with a crown. I settled in with my earbuds for a 90 minute appointment - in itself a challenge for the best of us. My long time dentist works fewer hours, so today a young and very gentle dentist was doing the work. He suggested a rubber dam would be a good idea for my safety. I could not believe how my body reacted - I started to sweat, and my heart was pounding as I fought back tears. I did not want to cry (holy moley I'm confident 66 year old woman who can breathe through her fears!). Gulping back tears and with my voice cracking, I described why I had this fear, but said I'd do my best.


I can do this! I know I can -- Deep calming meditative breaths, affirmations (I am safe, I am strong, I am calm - on repeat). Yes it's working....I'll be fine. Mouth is numb, dentist returns to the room, I take a few more deep calm breaths, rubber approaches my mouth -- Other brain says F-no! I knocked his hand away, sat bolt upright and started sobbing. Yup -- a part of me was watching from outside my body and shaking her head, but also accepting that this was not going to happen. I was so embarrassed, but there was just no way. Of course the crying was not helping with the sinus issue!



Thank goodness the staff was so understanding. They reassured me that I was not alone and that damn dam disappeared. But no, my humiliation was not over! Doc suggested the next best alternative was a bite block (a large rubber block that holds your mouth open). "Sure that's fine - yup I can do that -- I'm a good patient;)" Nope -- I instantly spit that out as well (thankfully missing his face ). It looks like I am in fact, psychologically limited! Through more tears I promised to hold my mouth open wide & stay really still.


As they day went on this whole experience bothered me SO much & had me questioning one of my core beliefs: My brain is powerful, mind over body, and most important -- facing and conquering my fears has been a part of my growth and Pro-Aging over the years. I honestly felt humiliated by my own behaviour. Eventually I forgave and even laughed a little at my behaviour. Why was I okay with this device several years ago, but reacted so violently today? I think a big part was my subconscious mind: I had a lot of trust in long time dentist Dave, and although I felt comfortable with the new dentist, I believe my sub-conscious had not yet developed that trust. Does that make sense?


What lesson did I learn? As always, losing control is humbling. I learned that sometimes our powerful habits and beliefs we have worked so hard on can crack and fail us. I believe that episodes like this make us more compassionate and understanding. (Don't get me wrong, I am compassionate but I think most of us can be a little judgy at times; getting knocked down a notch helps combat this!)


Oh - and I did receive a little much need validation: At the end of the appointment the dentist said "You were a good patient and easy to work on. I've made a note that we should never suggest a rubber dam". Yayyy!! I AM a good patient. I supposed the next thing I need to work on is my need for validation!


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