.journal 2000.12.28
Fearing the dentist.

Now listening to: Hair Original Cast Recording
Now reading: Poppy Z. Brite, Wormwood
Now playing: Final Fantasy VII (Playstation)

I've got a cavity.

I discovered it this past morning at breakfast, when I was having my Nutri-Grain Twist. I ran my tongue across my teeth to get any yummy bits of crust out, when I discovered something a little sharp up in my right front teeth. At first I thought maybe it had just been a piece of food that got stuck up there, but I brushed my teeth and the sharp spot was still there. It was too far back in my teeth to look at, so I stuck one of my fingernails up there, and sure enough I had a nice little indentation to fit into. Arrrgh.

I don't really know where my obsession with teeth comes from. I've got two theories about it: one is that, as a student of fame throughout my life, I'm used to the image of perfect white teeth on everyone I see, and I try to hold myself up to that standard of perfection and fail miserably. The other is that because I went to private school with a bunch of real rich kids, they could afford all the dental work they needed, whereas my parents couldn't afford that sort of thing.

And mind you, I need all the help I can get. Both my mother and sister were born with very weak teeth, and had to have their teeth pulled shortly after they became adults. My mother didn't have too much of a problem popping her teeth out and going around the house without them, so quite frankly I've seen the toothless look far too much in my life. And it's not for me, thank you for much. So I've been trying to fight genetics as much as possible, and keep my teeth, as imperfect as they might be.

So what does the universe do to me? Why, it gives me a fear of the dentist, of course! Sigh.

I had the same dentist all my life until recently, which on the one hand is good because it creates familiarity and all that. But it also means it's the same dentist who had to put up with me when I was a brat and wouldn't open my mouth for anything. Don't get me wrong; I liked my dentist a good deal, but let's just say bedside manner was not his specialty.

He also made one rather famous gaffe that my mother has not soon forgotten. When I was younger my mother was concerned about how my teeth were growing in, and wondered if I needed braces. (I doubt she could have afforded them, but the information would have been good to know.) My dentist said that I would likely "grow into" my teeth and there wasn't any cause for concern. Well, as you can guess the teeth didn't grow in, and as a result I have this weird condition where I can't make both sides of my teeth meet at the same time; on both the left and right sides of my mouth, my lower teeth shift to the left, and in order to chew I have to shift my jaw over to one side or the other. And with me scraping to get enough money for my own car, you can imagine how I'd think about getting braces right now.

Anyway, even though I was familiar with my dentist, there was about a two-and-a-half year period where I stopped going because of my fears. I also was not what you would call good with brushing, and I also developed this addiction to cough drops. The end result was that when I finally had a good-size hole staring at me from one of my front teeth, I went back to the dentist to discover I had four cavities, and the enamel on three of my lower teeth had weakened to the point where they'd been stained gray from all the coffee I was drinking during that time. Not fun.

I can't see this new cavity, but from what I've felt it isn't as bad as that one I'd discovered before. And it doesn't hurt, although knowing it's there has made me kind of queazy, and it doesn't help that I was already fighting a bit of a stomach flu. But tomorrow I will be getting a dental appointment, so I can get this taken care of.

It also doesn't help that my dentist retired on me; in fact, I suspect it's been much more than six months since my last checkup, and I suspect there was a reason my dentist didn't send me a postcard to let me know of my new appointment as he used to do. But now I have a new dentist who has my old records. His name is Dr. Fudge. A dentist named Fudge. Well, I'm sure he's heard every good joke about that (and every bad joke, repeatedly), so I won't belabour the point when I go over there.

But I am still nervous. I mean, I'm several years into adulthood and I still have a fear of the dentist. I know I'm not alone in that, but still. I know perhaps the fear is justified, and very few people actually relish going to the dentist, but it's not something I'm all too happy about. I mean, I had all kinds of fears about driving, and I still got my license earlier this year after I was able to confront my fears. But confronting my fears is still difficult for me, especially now that I'm having to go to a new office, meet a new dentist and all that.

I do have friends to support me, though. As a matter of fact, one of my buddies right now is going through an even more harrowing dental experience than mine. Maybe she and I can help pull each other through our mutual problems, although next to her my problems seem small and I almost feel like I'm not right to complain about my little cavity and little fear. I can't allow myself to think like that, though.

One of the things I've realized, looking back on the past couple of years before I began my creative recovery and the company I kept then, was how unsupportive they were. I mean, I discuss my problems a lot, but that's just part of who I am and who I've become. At first it was almost a defensive reaction to how I'd been mistreated by the people I grew up with; people would want to befriend me, but I'd be like, "Okay, but before you become my friend you should know I'm X, Y and Z." Just to be sure that they weren't interested in those things. These days, I guess it's part of my character as a recovering creative, because every day I'm confronting my problems, and that struggle with my difficulties is what is really defining who I am as a person right now.

But a lot of the people I knew before I began my recovery were, quite frankly, people I should have avoided. I'd be talking about my problems, and problems a lot more serious than a fear of the dentist, and what I'd get back would be something like, "Oh, children are starving in Ethiopia, and you think you have any right to complain about such-and-such? Come on!" And it doesn't take a professional therapist to know the absolute worst thing in the world you can do to a depressed person is to belittle their pain or trivialize it. That should've been a flashing red light to me, to let me know I shouldn't be associating with the people who did that to me, but I didn't know better. Thank goddess I do now.

And now that I'm associating with good people, maybe they can help me get over my fear of the dentist. It's going to be another part of my recovery, and while it's not going to be as fun as, say, going to a party with Jeff, it's something I have to do. I'll be strong and I'll get through this, but in the meantime I have to continue on with my life as best I can. Wish me luck.

- Sean