Opinion: Teeth-chattering change


I don’t like change. Maybe it’s my sense of order and predilection towards the mundane, but varying from routine makes me anxious, particularly when I don’t initiate it. I also can’t stand going to the dentist. Too many cavities as a child and the ginger-propensity for needing more anesthesia than normal people (it’s true!) have left me with a lifetime of traumatic memories. So imagine my distress when I arrived for my semiannual checkup and discovered my usual hygienist had retired . . . the day before. On the outside I appeared sincere in my welcoming of New Lady, but on the inside I was calculating how fast I could sprint back to my van.

Here’s the deal. I’ve had to work really hard to overcome my fears of dentistry, and a large part of my “therapy” has been consistency. I’ve seen the same guy for seventeen years, and he’s had the same hygienist for most of that. I trust them both implicitly. They know and understand my “issues,” and when I start a conversation with, “I scoured the house for something to calm myself down, but all I could find was expired liquid Tylenol with codeine,” they don’t call CPS.

Is it any wonder I found fault immediately with New Lady? She was condescending, arrogant, and used medical terminology that of course I didn’t understand. She declared “You grind your teeth at night” and “Your gums are receding” without a hint of empathy. She also made it quite clear that I wasn’t doing a good enough job flossing. How dare she! Didn’t New Lady know how things work? Granted, it was her first day and I was only her second patient, but she was doing everything wrong. Where were the “there, there’s” and the distracting questions and the cheers for at least attempting to take decent care of my teeth? I couldn’t wait for the dentist to come in so I could “have a word.”

But then an interesting thing happened. I looked at my watch and realized the cleaning had taken about half the time as usual. I also wasn’t as stiff as I normally am, the aftermath of having clenched my fists and shoulders for 45 minutes of aggressive plaque removal. Thinking back, I hadn’t actually come out of my chair at all, a personal record. And, New Lady had performed an oral cancer exam, which old hygienist had never done. I couldn’t believe it, but in those few moments of quiet, I came to appreciate the outstanding job performed by New Lady.

Lesson learned? Change doesn’t have to be bad, and, on occasion, change can even be good. I still hate the dentist though.

Peace out.