One of the things that has been on my mind recently is my relationship to the dentist. I had a lovely friendly relationship with my last dentist. We would share stories and take the mickey out of each other and basically, he made going to the dentist, dare I say it, something to look forward to. He listened to what I said and more importantly for me, he remembered what I said. I would always be asked not only how my adventures had been but also how my kids were doing. I guess he felt like a friend to me. Then he decided to retire but did so without saying anything to the patients. All I got was a series of cancelled appointments. My daughter found out what had happened and he apologised through her for not letting me know.
I am not one for change but felt it was reasonable to stay with the practice to see what the new dentist was like despite having a more convenient dentist down the road from me. After more cancelled appointments for all members of my family, my wife moved us to the dentist a few hundred metres away. Now it just so happens that an old friend of mine set up the practice and I would have like to become her patient but the spaces available were with a new dentist that had just started.
K is young, chatty and dynamic. She is very thorough and careful to explain things. We get a printed copy of the treatment plan with fully costed options. I can get an ordinary appointment within a week and an emergency appointment the same day. This is a level of care that is unprecedented on the NHS and makes my last dentist look archaic. The main problem I have with K is that though I respect her professionalism, I don’t trust her. I guess the other problem is that I now know I am autistic and find the whole dentist thing one of my least favourite things to do because of the whole sensory overload issue.
I have written about my first treatment appointment before. What I didn’t write about was the follow-up where I had another filling done. As horrible as the first appointment but made worse by the strange sensation I felt when she applied anaesthetic to my lower left jaw. It felt wrong at the time but it was only later that I found out why. The left side of my tongue didn’t fully recover from the numbness. Eating food felt like eating chalk. My taste sensitivity was fine but texture was completely off. A nerve had been damaged. I waited for it to improve which it did a bit but after a week, I seemed to be stuck with a chalky texture. I never knew how important food texture was to me. Eating used to be a joy, now I was lacking in appetite.
I knew I really should go back to see K and discuss what to do. I couldn’t face doing it though. I didn’t want her to feel I blamed her for my lack of food interest. She didn’t mean to damage me and what could she do anyway? Only time would tell if the nerve would heal or whether my brain could rewire itself to compensate. The problem was that now though I didn’t trust K to be my dentist. I toyed with the idea of writing to K. I was thought about writing to my old friend who is an original partner. I thought about going to see my old friend and having a chat. I did none of these things. There was more at stake than my nerve though, I felt I needed to let them know I was autistic. It felt too hard.
This last week though, I have been aware of a pain in my gum. I could tell my of my tooth roots had become infected. I knew I should probably go to the dentist but I reasoned they would just me the wrong type of antibiotics and by the time I had the right type, my body would have sorted itself out. I took painkillers and waited it out.
This morning the gum seemed better. This afternoon it was definitely worse. I looked at my mobile and checked whether I had the dentist’s number. Was it the old practice or the new? I found an old receipt and checked it was the new one. I paused for a few moments and sat down on the stairs, alone in my house apart from an attentive poodle. I range the dentist, explained my situation and was given an appointment for the late afternoon. I didn’t specify who my dentist was, so I hoped it might be somebody other than K.
Skip forward to the dentists waiting area. There is a radio programme blaring out. Someone is leaving an appointment and a child is making lots of loud inane conversation. The receptionist is chatting to a nurse. My anxiety levels are not good so I close my eyes and try to find a calm place. A dentist calls out my name. It is my dentist. It is K. She is chatty and for once doesn’t say how colourfully I am dressed. She does ask me how I am and I restrain myself by replying that I am “kinda doing okay”, whilst thinking something rather more pointed.
She examines my mouth, tapping teeth, feeling gums and blasting cold air around my teeth. She thinks a root of my second-from-the-back top-right molar has an infection but wants to check with an x-ray. X-ray done the diagnosis is confirmed. She then proceeds to explain the options which basically is root canal treatment or an extraction. She tells me the cost. I ask whether it is worth doing the root canal treatment when the opposite tooth in the lower jaw is already missing. She says that if it was her then she would try the root treatment to try and save the tooth. She tells me that I don’t have to decide now but she needs to treat the infection either way first and the only way of doing that is by drilling into the tooth and directly applying some antibiotic. This isn’t what I am expecting and I go still, trying to process what is going to happen. An hour and ten minutes of root canal treatment or thirty minutes for an extraction.
She can see I am hesitant but she thinks it is over the cost difference. I take a mental breath and tell her that the cost isn’t the problem, it is because I am autistic. She barely misses a beat. She explains again she needs to treat the infection anyway and I can decide later. I let her go ahead with the antibiotic treatment and she others me a pair of dark glasses. She knows the light might be a problem for me and I appreciate the thought and accept the offer. It is a start into a better understanding. I don’t want to appear too critical so refrain from mentioning the background radio annoyance or her telling me I am doing fine every few seconds. I try to keep still as the drilling and prodding continue but the adrenaline is building up and my body is shaking. I wonder if she notices.
Afterwards at the reception desk, I am replying that I will have the root canal treatment. I have a week to prepare myself. I walk back up the hill in the road because the pavement is too icy. The walking rhythm is helpful for me to aid my recovery but the parked cars combined with oncoming traffic are a pain.
Back home I find my friend still in the kitchen and chat to her about my experiences. I am still a bit shaky and am feeling rather down. I have to make dinner though, so that is something to look forward too. Unfortunately I eat my food too quickly and it gets lodged into my throat. Thankfully I can still drink some water so I am not completely blocked but I miss out on the fajitas and tarte tatin. I also miss out on the painkillers I need to reduce the pain now developing in my gum from the treatment. It has not been a great afternoon.