Finding Peace in the Oddest Places

I was at the dentist the other day getting a small cavity fixed and as I’m reclined in the (surprisingly comfy) chair, the draining thingy hooked on the left side of my mouth, gurgling quietly while my dentist and his assistants both have various other implements - some of them making that shrill whining noise - stuck in my mouth, I realized how relaxed I was.

I used to be afraid of the dentist, which happens when you were a child in the 60s and early 70s. I don’t know if it’s a Danish thing or the state of dentistry at the time in general, but I remember an attempted root canal turned into drilling out bits of a molar when I was around 12. Without anesthetic. It kind of sets you up for later anxiety.

When we came to Canada in the early 80s, we all became patients at my dad’s dentist and she was wonderful. I very quickly came to enjoy going to the office – all the staff were women and there was a lot of chatting and laughing, and over the years, the pleasant atmosphere weaned me off the nerves. What helped even more was when I decided to stop getting numbed up before the drilling started – it made my dentist really nervous and she’d move much faster. I was nowhere as relaxed as my mother was at the time. She used to fall asleep. I used to think she was crazy.

I still don’t get freezing – I don’t see the point. Unless the dentist is enthusiastically excavating around the nerve, at most what you’re looking at is a minute’s worth of pain and you can usually breathe through that. Contrast that with several hours’ worth of drooling, numbness and inability to eat and for me, it’s a no-brainer. Of course, if I’m getting a tooth yanked or another major type of job, I do opt for the freezing. Not that this seems to make much of a difference.

And somehow, I’ve now reached a point where I find the whole thing incredibly relaxing. It’s almost a treat. The chair is comfortable, I’m away from the phone and the computer, which means no one can reach me for up to a whole hour and the lamp that helps the dentist see what’s going on it tends to hurt the eyes, so I always close them. The gurgling, shrill whining and soft click of instruments as they’re being passed from assistance to dentist and back again serve as a sort of white noise and before you know it, I’m in an almost meditative state where I’m not thinking of anything, not worrying about my to do list, not writing something in my head for later use, I’m just there in the moment. Every now and again if my dentist hits a sore spot, I’ll do a bit of deep breathing to ride it through and before you know it, I’m back in the white space. And when I leave, I feel invigorated and well rested.

My 12-year-old self would think I’m crazy.