by Bella Rum


a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.


If that’s the true definition of phobia, then I’m not phobic about dentistry. The word phobia implies irrational fear, the key word being irrational. I do NOT have an irrational fear of dentistry, however, I do have a compelling desire to avoid it, but my fear is grounded in reality and quite justified, she said with a toss of her sun-kissed curls.

I’m blessed with pretty good teeth. A heartfelt thank you to those hardy souls hanging from my family tree. When our clan gathers, you can still hear these words uttered in reverent tones about my grandmother, “And she died with every tooth in her head and not a single cavity.”

They drank well water. Not an ounce of fluoride in it! And dentistry??? My sister still tells the story of how, when she was a little girl, they took her to a country dentist who pulled an abscessed tooth without benefit of anesthetic. They had to hold her down. Well, I guess you figured that.

I’ve had a few bad experiences over the years. The anesthetic does not work for me – particularly on my molars. I once had a root canal. They had to drill till they could shoot the anesthetic directly into the tooth to desensitize the nerves. It kept wearing off and they had to keep doing it. Horrible. I once grabbed a dentist’s hand and yanked it out of my mouth. I have a high tolerance for pain, but when they hit that nerve, it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

I wrote about my screaming fear of dentistry last March. In early December, I decided I had to take action and try to overcome this debilitating fear. The search was on for a dentist who could help me. There had to be a better way. They keep saying that dentistry has come so far. Blah, blah, blah.

I finally found a dentist who listened to me. I told her my history and promised her that I’d been less nervous the morning of my cardioversion than I was earlier that morning while preparing to come to her office. My hands were freezing, I was attempting to breathe slowly, my mouth was dry, and I’m sure my eyes were like those of a wild and rabid dog. I’d been up half the night, waking from a nightmare in which Elizabeth Hasselbeck was being tortured. No kidding. It was horrible. I was in full panic mode and nothing could reel me in.

I was afraid my heart was going back into A-Fib. In an unconscious and feeble attempt to protect it, my hand fluttered gently and bird-like over my chest. I was reduced to a quivering mass of exposed, raw vulnerability. I was a mess.

I finally convinced her that she was dealing with a complete moron. I could tell because her voice was soft and slow and gentle, like in one of those movies where someone is trying to talk a nutcase off the ledge of a skyscraper. I didn’t care. That was my intention. I wanted her to know that I was a psycho who could go off the deep end with the least provocation. I wanted her to know that butter knives were not safe within my reach. I’ve never been so determined to convince someone that I was a whack job.

Needless to say, she didn’t touch me that day. She did take ex-rays and she looked in my mouth. That’s it. She spent the rest of the time explaining what she planned to do for me, and I tried to stop twitching and trembling and biting my bottom lip Bill Clinton fashion.

She told me that she would prescribe *Valium. Yes! When housewives of the sixties and seventies (before anyone knew it was addictive) were popping Valium like it was candy, I never even thought of it. I never could understand why doctors prescribed it so freely. But, sitting there in that dentist’s chair, I realized that I hadn’t been so excited about ingesting an addictive substance since I was a little girl in Paul Harris’ old country store, standing on tippy toe to look into his glass candy case. Yes, chocolate is addictive.

Finally, something that would give relief and maybe a little courage. I was desperate. I’d have ingested battery acid if she’d told me it would work.

That could be why she only prescribed 8 pills. She told me to take one and a half before I left home and bring the bottle with me just in case I needed more. YES! She said she would also administer gas before doing the deed. Double YES! She explained how the anesthetic is more effective when combined with sedation, and that dentists are now using an anesthetic that’s been in use for some time in other countries, but has only been used in the U.S. for about three years. She said it’s shown great success in desensitization, but we’re slower to legalize things here. I was so skeptical that I wasn’t sure if I believed any of this, or if any of it would apply to my impossibly-difficult-to-desensitize teeth, but….

It worked!

Yes, yes, yes!

My appointment was Wednesday. I woke in the night. My heart was beating wildly and I couldn’t calm myself. No amount of deep breathing could help. I couldn’t wait till 10 o’clock to take the Valium, but I did. H felt so bad for me. He couldn’t wait for me to take it either. I think he would have been okay if I’d taken all 8 pills.

A little while after I took them, I felt calmer. My speech was slower and my voice was softer. H drove and I relaxed. When I arrived, I took another half pill, the gas went on, I laid back and sort of relaxed… not quite, but butter knives were safe in my presence.

The anesthetic worked!

For the first time in over fifteen years, I had a relatively painless experience in a dentist’s office. I was pain-free through the drilling. The only pain came at the end and it was bearable.

I came home and ate a bowl of tomato soup and slept the entire afternoon… till around 5 PM. I woke and ate some spaghetti, watched television for a couple of hours and went back to sleep for the entire night.

I have another tooth that needs a crown. I’ll still be nervous, but I think I can handle it.

I didn’t have the courage to write about this before the appointment because I was afraid I’d back out of it. I felt cowardly. Phobias can be extremely debilitating. I always think of people who have to endure much worse. My daughter-in-law spent her childhood in a country where she didn’t have the benefit of an anesthetic. Can you imagine? I’m so grateful that I live where it’s available, and that I’ve found a dentist who can make the process relatively painless.

* I’m not promoting the use of Valium or any other drug. Drugs  can destroy lives when abused. They can also be of great benefit when in good hands, used appropriately and in limited amounts over a limited time span and for specific situations.