Several weeks ago my wife displayed another facet of her brilliance. Approaching me as I made a sandwich (a particularly joyful part of my day), she smiled and referred to our afternoon’s plans. At the time, I was planning to attend to our three daughters while she went to a dental appointment. But acknowledging my general distaste for any outside involvement with my teeth, she kindly and wisely offered to give me her appointment time. “That way, you won’t have the chance to get anxious, and I can just schedule another appointment for a later date,” she said.
It was a plan whose merits could not be denied. Mere minutes later, I found myself having a reunion of sorts with our wonderful dentist– a kind of homecoming after several years of separation. And now I find myself on the eve of another visit to begin to attend to the problems I’ve ignored for all of that time.
Engaging with my personal kryptonite and phobic fears provides me with all kinds of humility. Moreover, it gives me some empathy for many friends who struggle with their own irrational fears and anxieties. In that spirit, I’ve developed my own Manifesto on Behalf of the Dentally Challenged:
Article One: We are not silly or stupid. We’re simply irrational. We hold advanced degrees. We are people of considerable accomplishment, and we are respected in our spheres of influence. So when we hyperventilate or shed tears or just generally freak out, please know that we’re not these pitiful creatures on our best days, or even on our worst days. We’re just like this when someone is working inside our mouth with sharp, scrapey tools.
Article Two: We’re not weak or wimpy. We’re just overly sensitive. We’re strong people, of tough moral fiber, deep commitments, and even bravery. I myself have run 6 marathons, am a parent to 3 children, and have been married for over 15 years, so I know a bit about discomfort and pain and determination. But when you lean my chair back and shine that light into my mouth, my guts turn to jelly.
Article Three: We’re not opposed to you, the dentist. We’re just afraid of our own teeth. I’ve maintained rich and wonderful friendships with dentists, and hold them in high esteem. I don’t doubt for a second that they are compassionate people, and I feel really bad that so many people go to such great lengths to avoid seeing them. My own personal purveyor of the dental arts is friendly, sensitive, and even apologetic. So please believe us when we insist that it’s not personal. It’s not you we can’t stand, it’s what you’re doing to us (which we understand is for our own good).
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