Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I H-A-T-E Going to the Dentist!

This morning I had my semi-annual visit to the dentist's office, and before I left I just had to express to Mike how much I H-A-T-E going to the dentist (spelled out because I said it in Kieran's presence and we try to discourage that word!). It's really no fault of dentist happens to be an elderly Japanese man (who according to family lore and who knows whether it is true, was trained as a Kamikaze pilot!), and he is the most sweet, careful dentist you could find. My usual hygienist is a very nice Japanese woman named Atsuko.

I've been seeing the same dentist since I was a teenager, with a break of several years when I was in Japan and then moved back to the U.S., when I tried out a dentist downtown because he was nearer. But I returned to Dr. Ishi in 1992 and haven't left since. On the rare occasions when I've had to have dental work done, he is so gentle with the shots and so concerned about my discomfort that he constantly asks "Are you okay?!" while my mouth is wide open and it is impossible to speak. We are also lucky because we happened to buy a house around the corner from his office, so we can all walk to the dentist (the kids go to a great pediatric dentist in the same building).

I have been blessed with very good teeth. I didn't get a cavity until I was 15 (those dratted braces!), and I've had few cavities or tooth problems since. I do, however, have some gum recession and sensitivity, and I have to admit that I'm not a very faithful flosser; otherwise my teeth and gums would probably be perfect! My hygienist even said to me today that I could probably get away with not getting x-rays done today (it's been a year) because I haven't had a cavity for so long. The way she said it, I felt like I was being really sneaky by skipping it!!

So why do I hate going to the dentist? I think it's mostly that annoying scratching sensation as the hygienist scrapes my teeth. And sitting with my mouth open for 1/2 hour while she cleans my teeth. Or maybe it's the memories of all the years of my life spent in dental chairs and doctor's offices with my mouth wide open.

My mom had German measles when she was pregnant with me, and I was very lucky to escape relatively unscathed with a club foot, cleft lip, and cleft palate. I had countless surgeries throughout my childhood to fix my birth defects, and I wore an awful speech appliance (called an obturator, see photo below) until I was 15. Apparently my poor mom had regular power struggles with me to get me to wear it (as a small child) and later on, as an older child, to get me to take it out at night. It filled the hole at the back of my soft palate so I could speak clearly. Throughout my childhood I had all sorts of people peering into and working on my mouth. I was even on television once as a child, because I was a medical case study!

At the age of 15, I had a surgery called a Pharyngeal flap, which corrected my palate enough so that I didn't have to wear the obturator any more. That was my last cleft palate surgery. However, in the meantime, I also had to have 10 teeth pulled via oral surgery, and I had jaw and chin implant surgery twice as a high school and college student (the first time it was not entirely successful, requiring a second surgery). Throughout my teen years, I had EXTENSIVE orthodontic work because of my cleft palate and extremely crooked teeth. As the daughter of a public school social worker (and a graduate student), I qualified to get free orthodontic work at the Oregon Health Sciences University, which was a boon to my parents. (I say that because I now know how much orthodontia costs!!) However, it was a pain in the neck (or mouth) for me, because I had student orthodontists, who definitely took their time and were not the most gentle practitioners. After they were finally done, their professors would come over and peer in my mouth to approve their work. Ugh! Boy was I glad to get those braces off after 6 or 7 years of orthodontic work.

It's a wonder I do not have a fear of doctors, hospitals, and surgery, but I seem to be fairly blase' about all that and am pretty trusting of my very carefully chosen doctors. In fact, I'm much more relaxed having surgery done on myself than I am when it's being done on one of my loved ones.

However, after all those years of dental and orthodontic work, plastic surgeons, and oral surgery, I consider it my right to complain about going to the dentist every 6 months. So there. :)

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