Dental Delusions


How long have I been sitting in this chair? I should have worn a watch.  I’m sure there is no clock in this room because some consultant—the same one who told my dentist to paint the walls a soothing shade of purple—thinks a clock will cause patients undue stress.

My body clock is sounding an alarm: Your “five minutes” is up!

She enters the room, maintaining her comfortably slow pace.

“Okay, open your mouth, please.”


I smile, happy to oblige.

There is a long pause.

I shake my head slightly and try to speak: “I can’t open.”

In my brain I can hear myself enunciate each word clearly, but my ears detect only a gurgling noise, followed by a choked cry. I feel my eyes widen in panic.

She picks up on my non-verbal cues and pats my arm gently.

“Yes, you can. Just pull them apart.”

And I do.

“Oh! But I thought they were stuck.”

“A lot of people think that,” she reassures me.

I wonder what causes this delusion.  Is it a side effect of the topical anesthetic? Perhaps she is just being kind because I’m a nervous wreck.  Looking up to assess her motives, I see that she is waiting patiently for me to leave.

“You’re all finished for now. We’ll call you when the permanent crown comes in.”

I’m getting a crown, but I don’t feel particularly regal.  I suspect that some drool has escaped my numb lips and is headed for my chin, maintaining its comfortably slow pace.

I push myself out of the chair, feeling a vague ache in my lower back.  How long was it, really? Long enough to make my back sore; long enough that my jaw will be stiff for hours after the Novocain wears off.

She escorts me to the door. “Do you want some Advil?”

And I do.

But I tell her, “No, thanks. I’ll take some at home.”

Is she delusional? How can I swallow a pill if I can’t feel my mouth?!

Driving home, I marvel at the trick my brain played on the rest of my skull.  I was utterly convinced that my jaw—clenched on the gooey substance used to take impressions—was sealed shut.  My anxiety became my reality.

Reaching up from the steering wheel, I rub the side of my face, which is still quite numb from the Novocain.

I just wanted to make sure it was still there.


Comments (6)

I know just what you mean: that lack of sensation is so weird. The awkward vulnerability of remaining with our mouths open or closed for extended periods of time at the behest of a “technician” is uncomfortable.
Then our dependence on sensation is exposed as our construct of reality.
The relinquishing of control makes the vulnerability all the more disconcerting.

Yes, the key word is “disconcerting.” It was not only the lack of sensation, but the temporary “altered sensation” of being stuck. I would love to see an fMRI of my brain, to see if some messages were being misdirected from the brain to the muscles.

Oh, oh – the dentist… The numbing, the poking, the prodding, drilling, excavating and ultimately, the fixing. It is the hardest thing for me. Your description is rich and reveals so much. Thank you for sharing this with us; although I am sorry that you had to go through it!

Yes, Fran, that first visit was rough. But I could have posted a piece that I wrote after the permanent crown was installed. That one was an “Ode to Dentistry,” expressing my gratitude at being able to chew on both sides my mouth again. Thanks for your kind and sympathetic words. 😉

OK — that does it. We are soul-mates. I despise going to the dentist. And I really, really like my dentist.

(You’ll see why we were meant to be friends when you read this early post on one of my dental visits:

I can’t believe it! I could have written your post. I ALWAYS say I’d rather give birth than have a cavity filled, and people think that I’m kidding. I’m serious, and I delivered all 3 stooges with no pain meds. All I can say is how relieved I am to have avoided root canal. Oh, and about the unwanted hair: read Mara Altman’s Kindle Single, Bearded Lady. Read it on the plane traveling home from RWB last month and I’m still laughing:

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