When the Unexpected Happens at the Dentist

CW: Dental work discussed in passing after the first paragraph. Medical professional belittling a patient mentioned briefly, as well.

Sometimes the unexpected is enough to cause a complete melt down or shut down. Other times, it can be okay. It seems to primarily depend on how unknown the unexpected event is to me, how it’s handled by the other people around me, and how many coping techniques I have at hand. If my reserves are low to begin with then the situation is likely not going to turn out well even if the other things are all optimal.

So, this week I had an unexpected root canal. It actually went pretty well. I stayed relatively calm. I did get shaky and felt like crying, but I didn’t actually start crying at the dentist’s office.

Three years ago, on the other hand, the mere mention of an unexpected root canal being needed in the near future was enough to cause a meltdown and I never went to see that particular dentist ever again.

At that time, I already suspected that I was autistic but I hadn’t really looked through that perspective at very much of my life because I’d gotten so overwhelmed by it all about a year previously. The parts of my life I’d looked at had been amazingly illuminated by the perspective, but I hadn’t yet figured out how to honestly look at my current life through that lens. At that point I had still been primarily deciphering my memories.

That dentist was exceedingly unsympathetic in general and made fun of me for my distress. There was no support and I had been in pain for months from a different tooth (I thought) so my reserves were about as low as they’d ever been. I was barely able to go back in to collect my x-rays a few weeks later so I could bring them in to the next dentist I saw.

I even had a panic attack a few months later when someone who might have been that dentist (I’m never certain about these things because of my face-blindness) walked past the room in which I was waiting to see someone else for something completely unrelated.

What was different this time? Well, first of all, I’ve had two root canals already. I know what the process is so it wasn’t a complete unknown. I’ve also had time over the last several years to get used to the idea that my teeth are in bad shape. Very bad. That one of them happened to be much worse than thought from the x-ray wasn’t a huge shock the way it was three years ago.

It also helped that my current dentist knows that I’m autistic, made absolute certain multiple times that I was okay with the root canal, explained what happened in great detail using the x-ray as reference, and gave me time to regroup with my sudoku game on my phone before starting the procedure.

Knowledge/experience, support, and coping techniques are so incredibly important to me when dealing with the unexpected.

Those three things can make all the difference sometimes.

4 thoughts on “When the Unexpected Happens at the Dentist

  1. I can totally relate to these distinct experiences. I once had to have a wisdom tooth extracted and the oral surgeon was so utterly inconsiderate. He (or one of his assistants, I don’t remember) said I didn’t need a sheet over my face because I’m blind anyway. Well, I have light perception and it would be extremely uncofortable to look into the dentistry light for the entirety of the procedure. Thankfully I managed to indicate that I needed the sheet. Thank goodness the next time I needed another wisdom tooth extracted, the experience wasn’t pleasant but at least better than the previous time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow 😦 I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had similar experiences, but glad that you were able to communicate your needs the first time and that the next time was better!

      I’ve never found dental visits to be easy. Having an understanding care provider makes a huge difference!


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