Wednesday, August 13, 2014

From the dentist's chair to a pink sand beach

"How are you today?" asks the dental assistant.
    "Fine," I respond. "Except that I'm on my way to a dentist's chair. Anyone who tells you only that they're fine on the way to an appointment with a drill is giving you less than a full response."
    I am going to see a new dentist, for the first stage of replacing a crown. I've been alerted that this will be a marathon session, at least 90 minutes. I adjust my body to the seat, taking in the decor of the room. Models in my line of sight demonstrate the progression of periodontal disease. The walls are empty, stark white, except for medicine cabinets. Nothing to inspire cheerful thoughts or stir the imagination, except maybe through sensory deprivation.
    The new dentist arrives. He announces, "First, I'm going to numb you up."
    "No you're not," I correct him. "I don't need anesthetics of any kind for this." I explain that over decades I have undergone multiple root canals, crown replacements and even oral surgery to extract the shards of a shattered tooth without numbing.
    "How do you do that?"
    "I let my mind carry me to another place."
    He's willing to trust me. He just says that if things get too much I should raise my left hand.
    The drilling begins, and goes on and on.
     I'm only distantly aware of it, because I am on a pink sand beach, enjoying the hard spray coming off the breakers. I run back and forth into the sea. Then I slip along the coast to bathe at leisure in the warm waters of a protected cove, worthy of a boyhood story of pirates, or a romantic tryst with a mermaid.
     I am distracted from this pleasant idyll only when dust from the drilling, or water from the jets being squirted intermittently into my mouth, threaten to go down my throat.
     Ninety minutes was a good estimate. It takes all of that for the whole procedure.
     The dentist asks me to say more about how I can get through this stuff without being numbed.
    "While you were working on my teeth," I tell him, "I was on a pink sand beach in Bermuda."
     He says, "When I was in dental school they told us that we can teach patients to put their mind somewhere else, by telling them to feel sand between the toes, stuff like that. I guess I'll have to remember that when you come in, I'll need to make that pink sand."
     "It's okay. I'm already there." I add, "I'd just like you to put some good pictures on the walls - of beaches, or lakes in the woods - so people who need outside stimuli can start taking themselves into those scenes, instead of the progress of gum disease."


Julie-Anne Michael said...

After having 7 amalgam fillings replaced last week - 6 appointments in 4 days! I am paying the price. I tried one without numbing and it was excruciating so again in went the needles. I tried taking my mind elsewhere but it was all a little too intense so hats off to you for getting to your pink sandy beach before the dentist's hands went into your mouth.

Coralie Tauber said...

How were you able to do this? This is amazing! I presume some people tried this technique before, but failed; it's too easy to be distracted by the pain. Your dentist must be very impressed, at least on this aspect. Either way, it's not that people should be like you and tough it out, but perhaps not be wary of going to the dentist. Even with the recent advances, people still have second thoughts. But your story should be an inspiration to them to give it a shot. Thanks for sharing!

Coralie Tauber @ Houston Smile Docs