"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Friday, August 16, 2013

Popsicles Scare Me

Alright.  This post takes some courage on my part, so bear with me.  It is about one of my fears, possibly even my biggest (however irrational) fear.  And that is things-touching-my-teeth-that-I-don't-want-touching-my-teeth.  Cold things like ice cream and popsicles, and metal things like forks and dentist tools.  I'm sure there is an actual name for this phobia, because there is a name for EVERY phobia, but I have never looked it up because I’m afraid of the images Google might show me.  Because—and you can call me crazy if you want to, but I'm not making this up—I can't even SEE someone else’s teeth touch these things without having a physical and emotional reaction.

A terrifying assortment
You can ask my husband. He knows (and follows, bless him) the rules about eating cold things in front of me, and he has seen me, on multiple occasions, cringe and jerk my head to the side as if I've been slapped, to avoid seeing the commercial where the kid bites the ice cream cone or the dentist pokes at an infected gum line with a little metal hook.  (They really should put up a warning before showing something like that on TV.)  All of this is real.  I mean, I know that it is psychological, that seeing this stuff does not cause actual pain, but what I mean is that I’m not exaggerating how it makes me feel.

I do exaggerate, about other things.

For instance, I pretend to be scared of clowns and scorpions.  Yeah, they are both creepy, but honestly I handle them just fine.  The truth is that sending me a scorpion dressed as a clown (which would actually be pretty funny) or a clown covered in scorpions (holy cow, I think I just came up with my Halloween costume) would be nothing compared to sending me to a children’s popsicle party.  If you ever see me in such a setting, you will notice that I am standing tensely, with my hands clenched into fists, avoiding eye contact with all popsicle eaters and sucking on my teeth with my tongue to keep them warm and safe from the horribleness going on around me.  In fact, right now, as I type, my mouth is clamped shut and I keep running my tongue over my teeth as if to console them.

Holy cow! I actually found a picture of a clown scorpion!
That is awesome! Thank you, BeanDoodling!

Obviously, trips to the dentist cause great anxiety for me, but I go because I know that routine visits for cleanings help prevent the much more terrible visits for fillings and crowns and other horrifying things.  And I have also learned some ways to make the appointments more bearable.  So if you too suffer from things-touching-your-teeth phobia, take note.

My game plan at the dentist used to be feigning confidence and nonchalance. It didn't really work.  The hygienist picks up on the truth pretty quickly when I’m cringing and squeezing my eyes shut and making fists with my hands.  Soon she starts to ask, “"Are you ok?  Does that hurt?  What’s the problem?" and halfway through a procedure when my heart is racing and I have a suction tube in my mouth and there is saliva running down my chin is not the best time to try to articulate the fact that no, it didn’t hurt, per se, I just didn’t like it.

So now I communicate.  Beforehand. 

I tell every new hygienist right up front that I'm a big baby, though I say it in phrases like, "my teeth are sensitive and I have some anxiety about being here so please be gentle".   Anyway, it gets the point across.  And you know what?  It turns out that most dental hygienists are NOT actually sadistic devils who want to harm you and they DO actually try to go easy on you if you’re freaked out.  Who knew?  It’s almost as if they’re… people.

These are not people.
They are mannequins in a creepy display in Panhandle, Texas.

The second thing I’ve learned is to take advantage of the comforts they offer. 

Most hygienists will offer to cover you up with a blanket, which makes you nice and warm and snuggly and conveniently hides the hands you are clenching into fists.  Don’t be embarrassed.  Say yes.  The really nice ones will find a kind way to offer it, such as, “Wow, it’s really cold in here.  Are you cold?  Would you like a blanket?”  They will also adjust the mirror for you so that you can see (or not see, depending on your preference) what is going on in your mouth.  And my favorite little accommodation is when they squirt the cold water on your tongue and let you warm it up first before swishing it around your mouth, instead of sending an icy blast directly onto your poor unprotected teeth.  (Yikes, it is hard to type when my fingers clench uncontrollably like that.)

And the third thing I have learned is if you find a perfect angel of a dental hygienist, do not let her go. 

Yesterday, I went for my regular cleaning, fully expecting to sweat through my clothes and leave with a stress headache.  The women at my dentist office (it is an all-female staff) do the best they can and offer the available comforts, but let’s face it—no one can completely take away the anxiety that comes with being in that chair.  Or so I thought.  And then I met the angel Tatiana. 

Tatiana is the most kind, patient, calm-inducing hygienist on the planet.  She told the “it’s cold in here” lie with expert finesse and covered me with a blanket, she offered to let me warm up the cold water on my tongue, she avoided the instruments that she knew would cause me stress, and she cleaned my teeth with such gentleness that not ONCE did I feel a single poke or stab or scrape or burst of cold air.  They didn’t even need to take my blood pressure afterward.  (Yes, that happens sometimes.)  It was amazing.  I was on such a high after that appointment; I couldn’t stop smiling, and it had nothing to do with my pearly white teeth.

So I thanked Tatiana, unabashedly, for her excellent care, and I gushed to the receptionist about how wonderful Tatiana was and now (I smile as I write this) I have a “Tatiana only” note in my file.  Yep, and I’m not embarrassed about that at all.  I didn’t even wince when I placed the reminder card for my next appointment in my calendar.

So, there is hope for me at the dentist office, but I’m still avoiding eating frozen desserts around strangers.

Chances are, there are some people reading this who can’t fathom what the big deal is about going to the dentist or eating a bowl of ice cream.  But I know there are plenty of people out there who can commiserate with me, and I want them to know they are not alone.  And the rest of you?  It may not be dentist appointments or popsicles or clowns covered in scorpions, but I bet you’ve got your own irrational fear about something, so be kind.  Always be kind.


  1. My coworker has informed me that she has some of the same issues minus the cold desserts. Furthermore: Dentaphobia is the fear of dentists. Odontophobia is the Fear of teeth. Psychophobia, Cheimaphobia, Cheimatophobia and Frigophobia are all Fear of the cold.
    So I guess you have Frigodentaodontophobia

    1. AWESOME! :) Thanks for figuring that out for me. Can't wait to start introducing myself as a frigodentadontophobist.