(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Believer by Imagine Dragons)
You know, I sat down at the computer with an open page and no idea what to write, and as my mind drifted through my recent experiences, I remembered the recurring dream I’ve been having every night for the past week or two.
It always happens a little differently, but there’s one element conserved throughout all of them – in each and every dream, I lose my tooth.
This story goes back to high school, when I was (in ninth grade, I think) in P.E. class playing badminton. Some douchebag whose name is now forever lost to my memory went back to swing without looking behind him and struck me in the mouth with his racket. About a third of my front right tooth chipped and came off.
The first thing I thought was my mom’s voice in my head after my little brother had chipped his tooth falling on a trampoline: Make sure you grab the piece of tooth and put it in milk!
So I went to the nurse’s office and did just that, and within a few hours I was at my dentist’s office. There, they promptly glued the piece of my tooth back into my mouth, warned me something about discoloration, and sent me on my way. And I didn’t really think about it any more after that – it was just a cool story to tell my friends.
My tooth chipped twice more after that – once in my junior year of college, and once just a few weeks ago while I was on vacation. In my junior year (on Valentine’s Day, too) I managed to make a same-day appointment with a dentist here in Westwood to get my tooth glued back together, and I was home and looking dapper for my anniversary with my girlfriend.
But abroad, there was no way I could keep my tooth from discoloring over the several days I had left in France, and at that point it seemed like there needed to be a more permanent solution put in place. Somehow, I got it in my head that I needed a veneer – I didn’t really know what they were, but I did know they required a novocaine shot.
Let’s step into another story for a brief second. I’ve always been kind of nervous around needles, but what solidified it for me as a real, honest-to-god phobia was when I was in middle school. My mouth is weird – weirder than anybody’s mouth ought to be – and part of that weirdness came in the form of a enamel deposit, kind of like a half-tooth, that formed between my baby tooth and my adult tooth on my front left side. This half-tooth prevented my adult tooth from migrating downward and making my baby tooth fall out, so if no action were to be taken, I would have had one baby tooth in my mouth as an adult.
So instead, they decided it was best to perform oral surgery to remove my baby tooth and the half-tooth up in my gum. And that required – you guessed it – a novocaine shot.
I’m probably misremembering, but I recall the pain of that shot being one of the worst pains I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’ve never broken a bone, never had any serious injury done to me in all the years I can remember, so I don’t have a lot of an understanding of real pain. But still, that impossibly long moment of having a needle up in my gum… well, it makes my skin crawl just writing about it.
So, jumping back to two weeks ago when my tooth came out on vacation and I realized I needed a novocaine shot, you can imagine what that did for me. It got really hard to enjoy my last few days abroad, and when I came back to the U.S., I was even worse. Not a day would go by that I wouldn’t make some sort of half-joke, half-cry-for-help to friends or labmates about “getting a giant needle in my gum”.
Skipping ahead again, I was sitting in the dentist’s chair just under two weeks ago, waiting for the doctor to come in and tell me whether I needed a veneer. My mom had briefly ignited my hopes by telling me there might be an option that didn’t require novocaine, but I wasn’t about to pretend the reality wasn’t there. One of my worst fears was facing me, and making it even worse was that whatever radio station they tuned to in the dentist office was playing – not once, but twice in fifteen minutes – “Believer” by Imagine Dragons.
If you haven’t been waiting in a dentist’s chair to see if you’re going to relive your worst nightmare, and meanwhile the singer for Imagine Dragons is singing “PAAAAIN”, you haven’t known true fear.
I don’t want to keep you for much longer, so I’m just gonna say I didn’t get the needle. There was too much of my tooth left intact, and so they suggested something called a “composite bonding”. But sitting there, literally sweating all over the dentist’s chair waiting to hear a verdict, I realized something.
People are dicks about phobias.
That same stigma with which many people treat mental illness, people use on phobias. I remember my little brother telling me he thought I was making it up when we were kids; I remember the way my friends used to pretend it wasn’t a big deal; and I very much remember how just two weeks ago the dentist seemed to brush aside my concerns when I asked him about whether a composite bond requires a novocaine shot.
I can’t say it enough, y’all – phobias are real, and they’re intense. Like other psychological issues, they’re not grounded in reality, so for God’s sake don’t tell a phobic that they need to “get over it”. Just indulge them when they want to worry, and distract them when it seems like they’re worrying it too much.
(And if you think that it’s easy to just force yourself into dealing with your phobia and getting over it, remember that I got three tattoos and I still cry when I get my blood drawn. So no, it’s not that easy.)
Yours, a man who will gladly die of rabies before getting a rabies shot,