I’ve just had a tooth extracted, a back molar. It was a big deal: my first extraction since childhood. I know dentistry has come a long way in the last 40-50 years, but painful memories can loom large.
“But you’re so calm and cool for root canal, drilling and filling,” said my dentist. “Why so anxious this time?”
“Childhood memories run deep,” I said. “Turn up the gas.”
I have my plier-wielding, childhood dentist to thank for my usual cool and calm. I remember telling myself, as the early 1960s drill plundered into my milk white tooth, that the pain was nothing compared to being eaten by a lion or having my leg sawn off without anaesthetic in a jungle. It worked. Instant calm.
That old dentist even taught me a bit about dreams and reality when he knocked me out with gas to remove a particularly painful tooth. I had a kind of lucid dream. I was tracing a maze, the kind you got in kids’ puzzle books, and every time the dental assistant lifted one of my eyelids to check the anaesthesia, the dentist’s face appeared in my maze. I was out and not out, dreaming and awake, listening to the conversation, the crack and snap of my tooth being lifted out of its swollen socket.
So I was surprised to feel so anxious, last week.
Of course the tooth was extracted painlessly. It was days later that something really strange happened.
I remembered a story I had told many times throughout my life but had somehow mysteriously forgotten since agreeing to have this extraction. When I was 20, I had a wisdom tooth removed. The dentist cursed: my tooth had a long, hooked root. Too much blood spurted in front of my eyes, and apologies were made for not booking me into a dental hospital for a full anaesthetic.
No wonder I was anxious this time round. No matter how wisely my unconscious mind tried to claim that memory, to tuck it away for just the time it took to get me into and out of that dentist’s chair, it still made itself felt, a niggling anxiety.
Still, I’m doing pretty well considering I’m running on 75% wisdom according to my dental chart.