A visit to the chamber of horrors..
Well actually its the dentist.
Do you remember your fist visit?
I do. I was about 6 and my aunt was taking care of me when I developed toothache, it was the start of a life time of terror.
Unsuspectingly I sat in the big chair and opened my mouth so that the ‘nice man’ could have a look at the tooth that was causing me pain.
He said I needed a filling and proceeded to drill my tooth with all the enthusiasm of a road mender digging up tarmac with a pneumatic drill. He shouted at me as I slid down the chair trying to escape his torture instrument and the pain he was causing, I remember digging my little fingers into the red leatherette arms of that chair trying not to scream..
At one point my aunt tried to intervene pointing out that I was in obvious discomfort. ‘Nonsense’ he said without ‘pausing children don’t have any nerves in their baby teeth.’ (This isn’t true)
The torture ended but the nightmare had only just begun for me, back in the 1970’s there were school dentists provided by the NHS in England and these seemed to be a particularly sadistic, bitter and twisted bunch of individuals so my childhood was marred by these six monthly visits to the chamber of horrors. The smell, the whine of the drill, the fear in the eyes of the other kids waiting to go in did nothing for my nerves.
So it was that I progressed from being a fearful child going to the dentist to being a fearful adult trying to avoid going to the dentist.
After having my son I realised I couldn’t just go through life avoiding dentists, they are a bit like the tax collector, they always catch up with you in the end.
But I struck lucky. I walked into a local dentist and I was put on 'Charlie’s list'. Charlie was a dashing young dentist who drove a convertible, went skiing and to the theatre, he treated every patient as a friend and was known to give away theatre tickets when the mood took him. He was a larger than life character and a very understanding and gentle dentist.
I knew this, my logical brain told me that check-ups and dental care are far less painful than tooth decay and toothache but when it came time for the check- up my knees would tremble and I would need the toilet a dozen times before I left the house.
Then we moved to The Netherlands and a new horror awaited me, I found another lovely kind man, Dr Pijlman but he informed me that in NL anaesthetic was not routinely used for small fillings. I sat in the chair and in my mind I replayed every moment of that time when I was 6. I gripped the chair arms in anticipation of hellish pain so I was shocked when the filling resulted in a little pinch now and then but nothing terrible and certainly not any worse than the huge old needle they use for the painkiller. But even this revelation could not stop my emotional brain from shivering in fear like a sloppy jelly every time the check-up date approached.
By this time I had three children and they had always had their regular check-ups, we went along as a family. I’d started with my son introducing him to Charlie long before he needed a dentist. Charlie would let him ride in the chair, taste the pink water and just muck about so that when he did do a check-up there was no fear to combat.
I employed the same system with my younger children taking them along while they were very young letting them sit in the room and watch me having my check-up, seeing that there was nothing to fear. Inside my stomach would churn and I could feel the cold sweat breaking out on my forehead but I would smile and take my place in the chair as if it were treat not a torture.
It was only when my children were adults that one day while talking about our worst fears I confessed about the dentist. The children looked at me in astonishment ‘but you trotted us up there every 6 months, you always went first and smiled as if the man was your best friend’ they really couldn’t believe that this was my worst fear, the thing I had nightmares about.
They all laughed about how mum had fooled them and convinced them that the dentist was no big deal.
I’m really pleased I was able to do that I just wish I could convince myself because even though I know it’s for the best, even though I know I have a good dentist who always tells me to raise my hand if I am in any discomfort and he will stop. I still get knots in my stomach, I still need the loo a dozen times before I leave the house and I still exit the dentist surgery like a man finally free from prison.
It’s amazing and terrifying that a 5 minute experience of a 6 year old at the hands of a bully can cause a lifetime of fear.
I wish I knew who that bully was, I wish I could have told him what damage he did. I wish I could have told him that good dentists do not cause fear and pain but I couldn’t.
I doubt that I will ever really get over my fear and so I did the only thing I could I hid it from my children and give them the gift of good dental care at the hands of caring professionals without them having to be scared.