Oct 17 2015

Do you have a fear that your friends and family call irrational? I do. I’m odontophobic, afraid of dentists.

It’s an irrational fear because there’s simply no sane reason to fear my dentist’s office. The receptionist is congenial, my hygienist a perfectionist and my dentist a consummate professional.

The anxiety also is irrational because I have perfect teeth — no cavities, straight-arrow perfect. In fact, one dentist facetiously offered me a million dollars for them.

So what’s the problem? Me.

You might say that I’m sensitive. In fact, my Air Force dental file is actually labeled “sensitive patient.”

How did I earn that label?

I guess I’m a wee bit too tactile. I can’t stand the scraping, grinding and pounding of the water pick. The X-ray bitewings gag me, and the polishing paste chokes me. The glaring lights blind me, and the drilling sound makes my skin crawl.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s how my last visit went with Debbie, the new hygienist.

Me: “Can I have a blanket?”

Debbie: “Are you cold?”

Me: “No, I’m just missing my special ‘blanky.’ ”

Debbie: Stunned.

Me: “Joking.”

Debbie brings a blanket and tucks me in as if she knows the drill. Dentist pun intended.

I decline her offer of safety goggles, opting for my personal pair instead. They are the darkened kind the optometrist uses when dilating your eyes. Only I got mine at a Utah truck stop during a summer drive through the salt flats. I save them for teeth cleaning, or in the event I’m ever asked to observe a nuclear blast.

Soon, she pries open my mouth.

Debbie: “Oh, my! How often do you brush your teeth?”

Me, through a mouthful of latex-covered fingers: “I whave a whack wissues.”

Debbie, withdrawing her instruments: “What?”

Me: “I have plaque issues caused by high salinity.”

She brushes off my excuse and starts in with her water cannon. My feet kick the air.

Debbie, with a tender hand on my shoulder: “Are you OK?”

Me: “My regular hygienist numbs my gums.”

Debbie: Skeptical stare through the glaring lights.

Me, pleading: “It’s better than the laughing gas my old dentist used.”

Debbie: “Oh, my. I don’t think we have to go that far.”

Still, ever the gentle professional, she spreads numbing gel on my gums. Instantly, it feels like an ant colony has been transplanted in my mouth.

But for the next 40 minutes, the numbing effects keep me relatively still.

Debbie: “See, that wasn’t so bad. Was it?”

Me: Releasing a bad breath of incredulity.

Soon, I gather my party favor bag of floss, a toothbrush and sensitive toothpaste. I take a 15-minute decompression break in the lobby.

Truthfully, I had to give myself credit for once again facing my irrational fears.

I did that by first admitting my fear to Debbie.

After she heard my fear, we laughed our way through it. But the laughter didn’t stop there. I decided to write about my fears so you could join me in laughing at myself.

As we made our next appointment, I asked Debbie how to spell her name.

Debbie: “Why?”

Me, mouth still numb: “I’m a ‘walumnist.’ I’m going to make you infamous, I mean famous.”

Debbie just laughs.

Note: No chaplains were harmed in this dental cleaning.

Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist. Recorded comments are welcome at (843) 608-9715.