Dental Pain.

posted in: Tips 24
Someone getting their teeth dealt with in 1989. Photo: Wikipedia.
Someone getting their teeth dealt with in 1989. Photo: Wikipedia.


I have a dentist appointment in the morning.

Going to the dentist didn’t use to bother me that much. I mean, it’s hard for me to imagine that there are people who truly enjoy the dentist, though there are those blessed with perfectly straight, cavity-resistant teeth who they probably regard a trip to the dentist like they regard an afternoon detailing their car: not fun, exactly, but necessary from time to time and worth it in the end when you run your tongue over your pearly whites — or your squeaky dashboard, if you’re into that sort of thing.

But after I got sick and began my journey into the world of hospitals, procedures, surgeries, and check-ups that involve, you know, scopes and needles and stuff, I began to really freak out at the prospect of laying back in the dentist’s chair. Though few of us like a novocain shot, I really, really hate being approached by a person with a needle. I’ve just got some baggage, is all.

And I’m a pretty good little brusher and even enjoy flossing (though I don’t do it every day) but I come from a stock of people with deep palates and big teeth with, I was informed once, “topography.” The teeth in my head, in other words, have ridges and bumps and all kinds of lovely nooks and crannies that just love to hang onto that which will give me a cavity no matter how gallant I am about keeping the suckers clean. I’ve gotten A+ report cards at the dentist but it’s more often that I get bad news: a small cavity in a molar on my upper right, a small crack in the lower left M4 or however they number these things. And there’s always blood on the floss when I get a cleaning, always the taste of iron in my mouth.

The other trouble is that I am extraordinarily sensitive to pain. (Cough, cough, Claus. Cough.) If Patient A gets numb with one shot of novocain, I need four. Really. My sisters are the same. We all suffered as kids at the dentist in Winterset (a kind, imminently capable man whose daughters remain dear friends of mine) because we didn’t know we could ask for another shot. When I was in the chair, tears would roll down my cheeks and pool into my ears while he and his assistant filled a cavity, the zings and zaps of the drill making me wince and want to pass out until it was over.

Tomorrow is my first visit to a new dentist and this is big. My former dentist took care of my dental needs for over a decade, but for a number of reasons, it’s time to make a change. My sister Rebecca (of movie renovation fame) claims she has the best dentist in the city. Here, now, is an excerpt from the conversation we had on this subject:

ME: Seriously, there’s no pain?

REBECCA: No pain.

ME: Like, none.


ME: Okay, because, seriously.

REBECCA:  Just tell him you’re super sensitive. He knows me, too, and I’m the same. You’re fine.

ME: No pain.

REBECCA. Zero. And his receptionist is the best. Her voice sounds like she smokes fifty cigars a day, all raspy and Chicaaaaago. She’s great. I love it there. Tell them I sent you, maybe they’ll give me a discount.

So tomorrow I go for a cleaning and an assessment at Rebecca’s dentist. I’m excited to meet the receptionist, obviously, and I’m encouraged by my no-nonsense sister’s promise of a pain-free experience. But if you have any advice for the dentist-afeared, do let me know; there comes a moment when all the worrying and the putting off comes to an end and there you are in the chair and the gal says, from behind her mask, “Okay, open wide for me?” and you gotta say:



24 Responses

  1. R mackinnin
    | Reply

    I take Ativan if I have to anything more than a cleaning. Wish you the best. R

  2. pat hicks
    | Reply

    Oh Mary I could tell you so many horror stories. When I see a new dentist, and there have been many I tell them up front what I need from them. If they can’t or won’t I end the appointment right there. I have a wonderful dentist now that I can trust and works with me. I have good vibes from your appointment. Please let us know how it goes.
    Thinking of you tomorrow

  3. Kathy LeLievre
    | Reply

    I can’t stand the sound of the drill. Have to wear headphones and play my favorite cd loud!!!! I try to zone out as much as possible. They keep checking on me to make sure I’m OK. I’ve had tons of work, some unnecessary which doesn’t help. My dentist even had a brand new assistant on a Monday morning for the first appointment — ME! Not a good idea. I yanked the suction tube out of my mouth while pulling myself up from that awful horizontal position. She’d hit my gag reflex for the 3rd time and that was it. I went after the dentist refreshing his memory on my dislike of being there in the first place and explained what she was doing wrong! Really, pay attention to your patient’s needs. Another time he got the bite just a little wrong on a temporary crown. He’s only in the office 3 days a week and it was really hurting my mouth. I went to an adjacent building that had dentists, explained and they couldn’t have been nicer, had a look, explained what they thought it was and fixed the boo boo. No more pain. You have to speak up for yourself, because no one will know you are in pain or discomfort if you don’t tell them.

  4. Colleen
    | Reply

    Ah I have had dentist fear forever . As a child I fainted in the chair they got the smelling salts and my mother from the waiting room.
    I hate the dentist all of them
    I have rules the dentist must have small hands (woman’s hands tend to be smaller)
    The office must be near my home … no driving on the freeway
    The dentist must be nice
    My dentist must know I am afraid very afraid and I will do anything he/asks to make the job that is being done in my mouth go as quickly and painlessly as possible
    I will open my mouth wide or close a little bit or tilt my head this way or that I will not complain about anything that is done unless I feel pain then you must stop and kill the pain
    After I go home follow any direction to the letter usually take a pain killer of some kind and rest or nap being a dental chair is exhausting to me it takes all my will and courage to go that torture place and then pay for it ,too.
    I am so glad it’s you and not me although I do love love getting my teeth cleaned not big needles and I get a baggie filled with stuff after oh so much better than the dentist

  5. Wendy
    | Reply

    You’ll be fine. You’re your own best dental comfort/health advocate. When going to an appointment when anesthesia is needed, let them know you need extra numbing time, and show up for your appointment at least 30 minutes early to be numbed, then tell them you are fine sitting in the lobby while the anesthesia takes effect. If they are a dental office worth their salt, they will accommodate your needs. Nothing worse than a dentist who gives you too many shots to get you numb faster. Every person metabolizes anesthesia differently, and you sound like a person who needs extra time to get the needed effect.
    You can also request anesthesia for cleanings. There are topical gels that can help in your comfort during cleanings. One such topical gel is called oraqix, and many offices use it. Ask for it. Let them know you have some dental anxiety. Know you’re not alone, and a great dentist and staff make all the difference. Take it from this Hygienist, I work with a funny, quirky, intelligent dentist who’s adored by all his patients. If you lived near the suburbs, I’d say come see us, you’ll never go to another DDS again!
    I will also say, if people floss daily there’s never really blood at a cleaning, that pesky iron taste, etc. Unless there’s another underlying issue causing that. And that’s not an insult, just a fact, hygienists know exactly what people do and don’t do with their mouths. We can’t help it, without turning this into a pun, mouths don’t lie!

  6. Emily
    | Reply

    I’m not much help. I feel so much the same about the dentist. Years of breaking out from the latex gloves, and catty hygienists in rural Ohio… and pain. The best I can say is that after too long away, I had my husband do the scary parts (research and phone calls). He found me someone with a high rise office overlooking a forest preserve, who researched every one of their products to avoid the chemicals I’m allergic to (no topical pain relief so novacane it is). I’ve never before seen a dentist and not broken out! I still kinda freak out every time, but it hasn’t been too bad. I guess what I’m saying is that you’ve got this. Lean on your sis if you need. Treat yourself to a frosty on your way home.

    • Mary
      | Reply

      A frosty! Oh, lol… Marry me, Emily.

  7. Sherry
    | Reply

    Just no amalgam fillings (the silver ones that are really 50% mercury) ever ever. Bad stuff that’s outlawed in many countries. You may know this, but it surprises me how many do not. No amalgams, Mary. Promise. xoxo

  8. Lauren
    | Reply

    Those two needle traumas are more linked than you think! Here’s a non-PubMed article/podcast about it : I send it in hopes it helps you out of any sense of guilt about your hygiene habits.

  9. GrannyC
    | Reply

    I always get the nitrous oxide. Always. For years (decades) I made fun of my husband because he wimped out and got the gas. Then he raised that eyebrow and said, “You’ve never tried it….how smart is THAT??” Hmm….I tried it. Now I always get the nitrous oxide. Always.

  10. Jennifer Reinke
    | Reply

    Mary, I am a Dental Assistant (by day, and a quilter by night-lol) and really all you have to tell them is that you have ALWAYS needed more anaesthetic. Their first concern should be for your comfort. I know no one likes coming to us, and we always get a bad rap, but it it necessary. Take a deep breath, you got this!

  11. EMA
    | Reply

    Tell them.
    Tell every single person in the office.
    Tell each one of them that you’re nervous, you’ve had problems with pain, and you hate it.
    Tell them over and over.

    They know how to deal.

    Beth Ann

  12. Robin Gabriel
    | Reply

    I, too, used to HATE and fear the dentist! I, too, have teeth that no matter how much I brush usually end up with some little thing that requires Novocain. I found out that it takes longer for the Novocain to kick in and that was the reason I was “super sensitive” to pain at the dentist! My dentist knows he has to allow an EXTRA 15 minutes for the darn stuff to kick in, so if I have to have some work done, I go in early, and he puts me in the chair. Then (seriously!) he sneaks up on me from behind with the needle so I have time to close my eyes, so I can’t see the darn thing and he shoots me up! Then, I am able to go back out to the waiting room to go read for a while until the Novocain has done it’s magic, and then voi la, I’m good to go! Maybe that will help you too! Good luck!

  13. Bobbi Penniman
    | Reply

    Get the nitrous. Takes the edge off and you will feel nice and relaxed and floaty. And when they turn it off, sadly, ask those pleasant feelings will go away and your will wonder when you can come back for another go at it.

    Yes, for realz

  14. Barbara
    | Reply

    I always tell the hygienist, and the dentist I have a very low threshold for pain. I also find it jaw achy to keep my mouth wide open for too long, so I make sure she knows the hand signals. I also take a small travel pillow with me if I know I’m going to have work done. Fits right behind my neck, at least that’s comfortable. You’ll be fine.

  15. Flora Roszel
    | Reply

    I hope for the best for you. I too dislike dentist visits, not because of pain, but because of the closeness – they’re in my personal space, using up all my air!

    My very kind dentist and I have hand signals, it works well for me.

  16. Denise in PA
    | Reply

    I have only one word…Nitrous o:)

  17. Beth K
    | Reply

    If I need regular dental work, my dentist has me stop coffee 3 days prior and take a yoga class the day before. I come in 20 to 30 minutes early so they can put the novocaine in and leave me with a book for a while. Anything more substantial and I want an oral surgeon because they know how to numb you far better than a regular dentist. Practice your deep belly breathing and know there are many of us like you!

  18. liz hinze
    | Reply

    I was the same way at the dentist they never got me numb. Finally a Dentist did a” block” I guess some people have nerves in different place so you have to numb them differently.

    • Mary
      | Reply

      Great news, comrades: My new dentist is awesome! Yes, I did have a few zings when he was using the spinny cleaner — and I’m gonna need a crown, which I figured — but overall, NOT a traumatic experience! Our worst fears are not always realized. Sometimes, they are. Sometimes, though, the lead-up is way worse than the thing. You know? Thanks for all the awesome encouragement and suggestions of nitrous oxide. I’m totally getting it when I get that crown…

      I also just learned how to comment on my own post!


  19. Katie D
    | Reply

    Listening to self-hypnosis recordings can help. My general relaxation one helps somewhat, but I still feel a lot of dread, so I’m currently listening to Relieving Dental Anxiety, by Bruce Peltier, PhD, which has self-hypnosis, as well as tips for how to talk to your dentist and get your needs met. Apparently this is his area of specialty and he’s trained dentists on hypnosis methods to help patients, so I thought I’d give it a try. I got the CD but there’s a website where you can download the program, too. I’ve listened to it twice now. While listening to the hypnosis part, I did feel very relaxed and actually had a strange new sense that I’ll be fine at my upcoming appointment, which gives me hope. I’ve had problem teeth all my life, and after numerous traumatic experiences I’m truly phobic of dental work. I do dread pain, but I also dread other things like feeling smothered, or the dentist giving me the wrong shot again (I faint and get severe heart palpitations when they give me the regular novocaine- I need the epi-free version). Nitrous makes me woozy, but I do take anti-anxiety meds for appointments, plus listening to the hypnosis. I wish you a very successful, pain-free appointment- and sounds like you’ll be in good hands, from what your sister said!

  20. Nadine donovan
    | Reply

    I feel for you.. I have low pain tolerance and suffer at the dentist. I have a good one now- I take a Valium before I go. When I am there they give me gas and novacain. Of course I need a driver- but that is what works for me. Hang in there- you can do this!

  21. Christina
    | Reply

    I just came from a dentist appointment with a great local office (in a very small town, so thank goodness!)

    I read about your using floss, but I didn’t see anything about using a water pick. My hygienist recommends it for “bumpy”teeth as the floss only his the high spots. Start on the low setting and work your way up. Plus, your teeth will feel fantastic when you’re running your tongue over your pearly whites. 🙂

  22. […] put a comment in the comments section that let you know the visit was pain-free and it was, mostly. My new dentist zinged me with the […]

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