Chattering teeth

I went to the dentist yesterday. For the first time, in 56 years, I was looking forward to going.

From some of my previous posts, and my occasional references to rugby, you will know that I grew up in New Zealand. During my primary school years, New Zealand had a National Dental Program. Dental nurses were collocated in schools in a small building called dental clinics or more commonly referred to by the students as the “murder house”. Every child in the school would pay a visit to the “murder house” by class and alphabetical order every six months. You always knew when your time was coming. As the letters progressively got closer to “H”, I would begin to sweat, worry, and could not sleep. In these early days of dental clinics, there was no analgesia, no injection, to numb the area. The drills were foot-pedaled. I can vividly recall the feel of the grinding and piercing of the drill into my little teeth. The sound of the pneumatic drill forever imprinted on my memory.

Once through the ideal, the dental nurse would praise my bravery. She would put a little stamp of an animal on the back of my hand and an angel or butterfly made out of cotton buds, into my hand, to take back to show the rest of the class. The rewards were not sufficient to reduce the impending fear of future visits.

When I left primary school, I did not go to the dentist very often. One notable visit involved having all four of my wisdom teeth taken out via local anaesthetic in the dentist’s chair. Progressing into adulthood, I would occasionally reluctantly visit the dentist. During these visits, I would often be lectured on what I should be doing and what would happen if I did not. This was not enough to encourage me to make regular appointments. I recall, one dental hygienist passionately berating me for not having my teeth regularly checked. I never went back. My growing understanding of why it was difficult for me to go to the dentist and explanations of this, during my visits to dentists, seemed to fall on deaf ears.

About, 10 years ago, I lost a tooth because I had not paid attention early enough and had continued to steer away from regular check-ups. After this, I did start going to the dentist regularly. It was not easy for me to get there. With my pending visit to the “murder house” drawing nearer, I would consider cancelling the appointment, convincing myself that my teeth were fine. The dentist, I was seeing was professional and proficient. He answered my questions and he was careful to ensure that I had adequate pain relief, if he needed to do a procedure. This was not enough to settle my trepidation.

One day, as I was nearing the time for my annual check- up, I noticed that a new dentist had opened up, conveniently located to my workplace. I decided that I would make an appointment.

Entering the practice, I was met by Anne. Immediately, I sensed something different. Anne took me into the procedure room, made sure that I was comfortable, and then spent the next 15-20 minutes finding out about me. I was so relieved to be able to tell her my story. Anne listened with empathy and understanding. She asked me if there was anything that she could do to make the experience easier for me. Anne is one of those, unfortunately, still rare practitioners who showed me that she cared.

During that initial conversation, I also found out a little about her. She told me, about how she and her husband had worked in a variety of settings before deciding to set out in their own practice. They had experiences of working in places where they administered procedures and processed people with a focus on money rather than on helping people. Anne did go on to examine my teeth, provided me with evidence-based information, explaining rather than telling. She told me how I could look after my teeth and what a difference that would make. I felt so reassured and relieved. After walking out the door, from my consultation, 12 months ago, I followed her instructions every day. (Well almost every day). I was looking forward to seeing her yesterday. Anne, showed me via comparative photos, how I had been going with the care of my teeth and commended me on how well I had done.

I have already made an appointment to see Anne, next year. I will happily pay for her professional help and sing her praises loud and strong. And more than that….
I will (almost) be eagerly awaiting my next visit to the “Care-House”.

Dianna Howell Certmgr MIML MAPA

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