The cost of my smile …

An Open Letter to Dental Professionals

Dear Dentist,

I know you don’t understand my anxiety in your office, your beautifully decorated office, meant to inspire a confident and relaxed setting that invites everyone to be comfortable. All the ambiance in the universe will not be able to subdue my fears, my flashbacks.

That large metal gun, filled with numbing pain relief, trips all sorts of alarms in my body, as I hear the metal clack against my teeth and feel the cold steel on my lips and tongue. Even though my eyes are wide open, I am back in another time, when a gun with bullets was aimed at the same teeth and tissue. I am feeling that jaw clenching terror all over again that kept me silent for decades, which was his intent.

I breath as deeply as I can through my nose and fight to still my racing heart. The adrenaline is surging through my body and I grasp the armrests and resist the urge to flee. My physical pain is so extreme that I must stay and trust you; a stranger that I met moments ago. Your skilled and smooth, gloved hands in my mouth trip more memories. Experiences of oral rape by power wielding men that I was supposed to be able to trust in my innocent years.

Tears fall down my cheeks and I let you think that it is about the stress of my current world – my car breaking down 6 blocks from your office an hour ago. But my self-talk is all about feeling safe and coaxing my mind to stay fully present in a valiant effort to stay in my body. I would rather float away in the cloud of gas that you so kindly gave me. You are the first female dentist I have ever met and you are gentle and patient and perfect. I am grateful I ended up in your office, in your chair. Any male voice right now might send me back into the streets.

When we are done, I want to say thank you, and let you know much I appreciate and trust you already – you have taken away overwhelming pain, but I am numb and frozen on more levels than you can imagine. At one point, you said, “Wow, this root is really angry.” I wanted to say, “You have no idea.” And, “Thank god it’s coming out.”

My hope is that we can have a typical doctor/patient relationship, however, I’m certain I cannot be a typical patient. Once I share this with you, you will look at me differently. And that is ok. I need you to understand how much pain it took for me to cross the threshold of any dental office, despite the hours of healing I have done.

Here is how you can help:

  • Please understand my intent is to heal as I go through this process. My work begins before I arrive in your office and continues long after I leave.
  • When I am in your chair, if I hold my breath, please remind me to breath.
  • Keep the tissues handy.
  • As I leave your office, it is ok to remind me to ground and gain my bearings. Navigating each appointment is a literal challenge: nothing seems familiar or feels easy.
  • Ask me any questions you have about how to treat me.
  • If anyone teaches Trauma Informed Care to the dental professionals, please sign up. I am not the only patient you have with oral trauma history.

I will promise to take better care of myself so I am not that desperate patient with an abscess the size of Texas. I will come and visit regularly. Floss (almost) daily. Brush morning and night.

Your grateful new patient,

Angela