Dental care arouses feelings of anxiety

Deborah Mitchell - Contributing Columnist

By the time you read this, I will have undergone a second treatment on my root canal. I realize this may not be the most important thing in your life today, but it certainly is in mine. Just the thought of the sound of that suction thing sends my blood pressure skyward, and the thought of spending about two hours with something propping my mouth open makes me want to cry.

It isn’t as if my dental treatment life has been some chamber of horrors. My first dentist was Dr. Paul Detherage. His office was in West Plains, and so my whole family scheduled dentist visits on the same day, as West Plains is 28 miles away from Thayer. Dr. Detherage was a nice man, and he never caused me any pain, but when he looked into my mouth, he always found it wanting – a cavity here, a cavity there – my teeth were a mess.

When we moved to the Kansas City area, we had to find a new dentist. Dr. Van Bibber was in Independence, and he had a wicked sense of humor. He was also kind, but he found a cavity here and a cavity there and fixed them – painlessly – until my mouth felt like some patchwork quilt of amalgam. Dr. Van Bibber was the one who pulled my wisdom teeth, one by one, thank heaven, so that I didn’t have to undergo any surgical removal. However, I discovered that each time I went for treatment, cleaning, or special activity, I became more and more anxious, my heart fluttering every time I heard the buzz of an instrument of torture.

Then I met Ed Kendrick, who is a dentist and fabulous underwater photographer. Ed is still a talented practitioner. He did the first of my more-than-I-want-to-count root canals on the day after I had flown back to Kansas City from Louisville, Kentucky, when I had been stricken with pain in my mouth that flattened me to the floor of the plane. Ed said, “Well, I need to do this to see if my supposition is correct,” and then he poked something that made me holler out loud. “Yes,” he said. “I’m right. You need a root canal.” Then he did it. He moved so quickly that I couldn’t really object. I wasn’t happy, but he caused much less pain than the darn tooth had.

Then I moved to Sedalia, and Ed’s office in Kansas City was much too far away for me to travel every six months for dental care. So I found another dentist, Jim Whiteman, in Warrensburg, who endeared himself to me by understanding and sympathizing with my not-quite-logical fear of the buzzing equipment. I still had not been hurt by a dentist, but my anxiety was growing along with the complexities of each procedure. When two of my front teeth broke, Jim suggested veneers, which he engineered and which have now lasted for 16 years. He also suggested that I take anti-anxiety medication during the procedures, which helped me through the grinding and metallic screeching that went along with the preparation for the veneers.

But my teeth, thanks to my family heritage, kept betraying me. Jim sent me to an endodontist in Lees Summit for a couple of root canals and a consultation for an implant, and my dentist phobia kept getting bigger, even though the endodontist’s cutting edge technological equipment made each procedure easier to bear. So here I am, having to go back to the same kind and virtually painless endodontist who, with his new-fangled camera, saw a new crack in the previously root-canaled tooth, and I am trying to prepare for yet another procedure. I’m as ready as I can be; I have my anti-anxiety and my pain medications. And I hope for the best. Maybe the crack won’t be too deep and maybe it will be fixable. Maybe. Maybe.

But I keep reminding myself that if the worst happens, recovery could be okay. I might get to spend another couple of days in bed, just like last time, binge-watching old “Columbo” episodes and movies I haven’t seen in a while. I’ll let you know.

Deborah Mitchell

Contributing Columnist

Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.

Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.

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