CW: dentist visit, tooth issues – nothing described in detail.
I have a thing about teeth. One of my biggest fears has always been my teeth falling out. Unfortunately for me, I have really terrible teeth along with awful sensory issues surrounding toothbrushing. We also haven’t had any money or insurance coverage to see dentists for anything but emergency work until this past year.
All the emergency work we had done over that decade was for my mouth only after it became excruciatingly painful and those experiences have left me with a great deal more tooth and dentist anxiety than I started off with (which was already plenty).
I was single-parenting all this week, which already had me nervous since it’s a huge change compared to my usual routine plus extra responsibilities. So, of course, it was this week when the top part of one of my back teeth broke pretty much directly in half, something it took me about an hour to figure out/ascertain.
I was utterly panicked and couldn’t function at all for a while. It was the evening so there was no way to see a dentist until the next day at the soonest. At least the tooth had a root canal so I wasn’t in much pain, but I had to keep my top and bottom teeth separated because it I touched them together only the slightest bit, there would be a painful scraping noise and my mouth would hurt too (likely where the sharp broken edge was poking into my gums).
Thankfully dinner was done, children were fed, there was nowhere else to go so I could just curl up on the couch and read a bit then watch some shows with my eldest child until I was able to fall asleep. At first I was determined not to fall asleep that night at all because I sometimes clench my jaw in my sleep and I didn’t want to risk doing that with a broken tooth of unknown status back there. Instead, I set an alarm to go off every 45-ish minutes so that I wouldn’t ever reach the point of deep sleep. This meant that I didn’t sleep very well either, but I also didn’t further break the tooth.
I was able to get an appointment to see the dentist the next morning (someone else called them for me), but I was unable to speak at that time so I prepared and gathered some materials in case I was still not able to speak in a couple hours, when I saw the dentist.
First I typed out all the questions I thought they would ask: How are you? What happened? Where does it hurt? What do you need?
Then I added my responses. I tried to be as detailed as possible with how I likely felt (“terrified” was the closest I could guess), what had happened, what time it had been, how the breaking felt/sounded, where and when it hurt, what information I specifically needed from them in order to get on with my life post-tooth break, etc. I wanted to make sure they had all the relevant information and wouldn’t need to ask me much, if anything, else.
Finally, I grabbed a new tiny notebook off my shelf and placed it inside my bag along with a pen. I’d bought the notebooks weeks ago because I needed one tiny notebook, but the least expensive ones came in a pack of five. I’m so very thankful that notebook was there when I needed it. Hooray for the 5-pack!
Also, having thought about it so much recently, I put my stuffed dog into my bag before I headed off to the dentist.
As I waited I sat cross-legged, read my book, and hugged my stuffed dog, still in my bag with his head poking out a bit, while I waited for an open slot. I had successfully dodged the “good morning, how are you” dance at the front desk by signing in quickly while the receptionist was on the phone, with her back turned towards me.
The waiting was the worst part. By the time I was actually sitting in the dentist chair, I was convinced that I’d lose the entire tooth and so had achieved a sort of sad resignation. I had to be there, I was there, it was out of my control, and I was now playing my Two Dots game on my phone to distract my mind from concocting anything else to worry about.
I only had to write a few things in my notebook because my initial sheet had apparently been informative enough. Unexpectedly to me, once the broken piece was out of my mouth, the dentist seemed to expect me to be able to speak again despite the fact that I’d explained that I wasn’t verbal that day in my information sheet. That was almost the first thing listed after the question, “How are you?”
So I shook my head in response to her, “You can speak now.” and wrote down my response to her previous statement.
During this experience I learned that when non-speaking but wanting or needing to communicate with others in person, a lot doesn’t get written. I have to be much choosier with what I share because I feel rushed to write it quickly and get my end of the conversation finished while everyone else waits. I’m not sure if the other people are actually impatient or if I’m putting that pressure on myself because it’s a less familiar situation. Usually I’m able to just hide in my house until I can speak again or I only have to communicate with people whose numbers I have and can therefore easily text instead of speaking.
In summary I’m thinking it went pretty well. I don’t think my dentist really understands Autistic people very much, but she listened to my writing and was reassuring about my situation and gave me all the details I needed in order to eventually calm down about the whole thing.
And it is my plan, very soon, to seek out a smaller stuffie to more easily carry with me. I just have to get to a store to look for one because it needs to feel right to hold and I can’t determine that to be the case from an online store’s photo. Partially because I like being not drawing attention to myself unless necessary and partially because I would hate to lose my new special stuffed dog since I lost my last one.
All in all, I’m pretty pleased with how I handled the situation. It was so hard, but I did it and pushed through. It took me a good 10 minutes to make myself walk through the front door of the dentist office once I’d parked in the parking lot, but I did it! I’m also extremely fortunate to have a support network so that I didn’t have to make any phone calls or worry about my children while I was at the dentist.
I’ve pretty much been an exhausted wreck for the remainder of the week, but that’s okay.