I returned a couple of hours ago from a 3 hour dentist appointment. You can imagine why it took that long. It’s been over 2 years since my last appointment and since I was told then I had a couple of teeth on cavity watch, it’s hardly surprising that between the xrays, gum check, oral cancer exam, cleaning and polishing, that there were some cavities. 3 of them, to be exact. (On the bright side, my gums and teeth are in good condition.)
Given the particularly nasty cavity that had formed in a crack in my tooth (did you you know your teeth can crack?) I opted to stick around until the dentist could fill it on the spot. As I was waiting, I took mental stock of how I as doing and discovered the answer was “not bad,” which surprised me. My last visit to the dentist was really stressful. I was berated for not flossing–repeatedly–the dentist kept ordering exams I wasn’t expecting, driving up the cost, shunting me between different rooms, different hygienists, and wearing me down to the point of getting a tooth repair I didn’t really want.
This time, it is true that I knew better what to expect–my pre-move old-fashioned dentist had not done particular things that these young dentists do as a matter of course. And it is true I was harassed a lot less about flossing. And since I had 2 teeth on cavity watch going in, yes, I expected to find that I did now have cavities. Knowing what to expect always helps diminish fear.
Given all that, as I sat today with my mouth getting number and number, I remembered having to listen to music at my old beloved dentist’s office when getting a filling, in order to distract myself from what was coming. At my last dentist’s, I practically cried myself home I was so stressed out when I left. Today I was resigned, but relaxed. The dental hygienist offered to turn the TV on for me while I waited, but that didn’t appeal.
What changed? “You have,” surfaced inside me as I sat. It’s true, I realized. Having a tooth filled is not going to ruin my day, and having to pay for it is not going to ruin my month. The anticipation of pain wasn’t making me anxious. In fact, I wasn’t even anticipating pain! I was not enjoying my numb face, but it was a thorough indicator that this filling was not going to hurt at all. My new dentist was taking care of me and I could trust in that, even rest in it, because he is clearly competent and has no wish to cause pain. I thanked God for this as I sat there and did my best to remain in that place of rest.
For a 3 hour dental visit, I think things went well. And now that I have the headache that usually comes after having my jaw propped open, and can now feel my ear and upper lip (the bottom one is still out of commission) my assessment is that the visit was unpleasant and tiring, but otherwise fine. I could go back again, and in fact I will, in December. I have 2 more teeth to get filled.
When was the last time you were able relax in a doctor’s office, not simply because you believed in the competence of the doctor, but also in Christ’s competent presence? What was it that made that possible?