Filling Fear

As a rule-follower, I am often so scared of getting into trouble that even the thought of it is enough to make me anxious. Naturally, I used to think a cavity would get me in trouble with the dentist. Every six months, a pounding heart and sweaty palms would accompany me to my routine dental exam and cleaning, and each visit always ended in relief. The hygienist even threw around comments about my “perfect teeth.” I was consistent in this way into adulthood, to the point where I naively assumed I was set for life. In reality, I was set for 28 years, 42 weeks, and three days.

At this point, now living hundreds of miles from my childhood dentist, I was prepared to maintain my perfect record at the new office. I didn’t think much of the hygienist’s lack of commentary about how wonderful my teeth were that morning. This was a new relationship, after all. Maybe the tough plaque she removed should have been a tipoff, but couldn’t she have at least verbalized a clue something was amiss? Instead, I received the news when the dentist arrived for inspection. Dentists at the practice had dropped from two to one since my prior visit and this was our first meeting. He made a heck of a first impression.

“Small cavity on number 18,” he said.

Say what?! He must have missed the part in my chart where it says I don’t get cavities. He went on like it was no big deal, noted the sticky tooth, looked again at my X-rays, and announced, “You have 27 perfect teeth,” followed by a chuckle. Gee, thanks. Are you planning your next vacation funded by the imperfect one?

He left, and the hygienist took over explaining insurance coverage and how after the procedure I “won’t even be able to tell” thanks to modern tooth-colored fillings. Meanwhile, I’m thinking how I don’t give a flying toothbrush how much I have to pay out of pocket or my vanity — I’m focused on “needle,” “drill,” and “numbing,” but mostly  “needle” and “drill.” Not to mention holding back tears. I may have a cavity, but you, ma’am, have a failure to grasp the problem. I brush twice a day, floss, use mouthwash — how did this happen?! My defense of humor to keep from crying didn’t earn me any points as the hygienist assured me, yes, they were sure I had a cavity, and no, “never” wasn’t the best option for when I should come in to get it filled. We scheduled it for the following week.

Never dramatic me made the dental walk of shame to my car lamenting the loss of my perfect teeth record. I considered making the trip to my childhood dentist for a second opinion, but decided I didn’t want him to ever know (like I said, I don’t like getting into trouble). Maybe my tooth would get better in a week. And maybe chocolate would count as a vegetable.

Later, I posed the what if scenario to my husband of where I would sneeze and something would be drilled by mistake. Aren’t drills things we typically keep away from our mouths? Yeah, thought so. I feared we might have to move and find another new dentist because the whole city would hear my screaming. He had the audacity to think all of that improbable.

I arrived for my appointment at 30 minutes past high noon. After 15 minutes, it was all over, and I felt foolish. The dentist said I did fabulous and I went without Novocain.

“Anything we can do to save people from drooling for four hours,” he said when giving me the option. I decided then his humorous bedside manner was a comfort rather than an insult, and I was grateful for it. Sure, the numbing gel felt weird and the bumpiness of the drill made me wonder if I would leave minus a few brain cells, but despite the cavity being deeper than expected, all went well. My dentist even said I take good care of my teeth. So much for getting into trouble!

Since the purpose is often easier found in hindsight, I’ve considered that maybe going through this will help me better comfort my children if they have cavities someday (and keep them from screaming so loud we have to move). More importantly, my story about fearing a filling may sound trivial, but it relates to a larger issue. I am prone to worry, but facing my fears both big and small reminds me to trust God and not be afraid. Honestly, I’ve read the many verses in the Bible that speak into this as if God tells us to get over it; if we try hard enough, we can switch off our fear, worry, and anxiety. Rather, we can trust He is bigger than and with us through our fears and trials of all sizes. We don’t have to get over it, but we will get through it. I take more comfort from that lesson and pray my children will too.

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