Fear, Choice & Good Dental Health


I missed the memo about fear, choice and good dental health.

As per usual, the other day I was listening to NPR and heard this extraordinary story of the rescue of survivors of a plane crash in New Guinea back in 1945.  When recounting how she felt as they prepared for the complicated, daring, and dangerous rescue attempt, survivor Cpl. Margaret Hastings said something that stopped me in my tracks: 

“When you have no choice, you have no fear. “

Whoah.  This just really got to me for some reason.  I suppose it makes intuitive sense…in desperate situations, people tend not to over think or equivocate; they just do what they need to do to.  

Mercifully, I’ve never been in a plane crash.  While furiously knocking on wood, I’ll tell you that I’ve lived a quiet life that’s been relatively free of genuine peril. Given this good fortune, I think one of the closest things to a “no choice, no fear” situation that I’ve experienced may have occurred this week. 

Last Saturday, I started experiencing a bit of discomfort around one of my lower incisors.   I began swishing fervently with hydrogen peroxide and doing some extra flossing in the vain hope that I could cure my little issue and avoid an extra trip to the dentist.  Alas, as you might expect, my self-care efforts were pure folly.   As the week progressed, the discomfort escalated from just a bit of sensitivity to explosions of pain radiating through the entire right side of my lower jaw.  As pain goes, it seriously rivaled labor and childbirth, so I knew I was in real trouble. 

When it comes to going to the dentist, I’d say I have an average level of anxiety.  But since I had missed a few check-ups, the anxiety started to intensify as I imagined the horrible state of affairs in my mouth and I nearly had a panic attack at the prospect of how much all the dental rehabilitation was going to cost me. 

But when you feel like a baby is about to be born out of your face, you’ve really got no choice but to go to the dentist.  Seriously, I might have been willing to let Sir Laurence Olivier have a go at me with a drill and rusty pair of pliers…it was that bad.

So to the dentist I went.  And because I was pretty desperate for relief, I really had no fear.   My only other option would have been to cut my head off, so really, no choice, no fear. 

And it wasn’t that bad.  I did need a root canal, but I was otherwise in good shape.  I had a pretty gnarly infection, but with a week’s worth of antibiotics and 800 mg of Motrin, I’m already feeling a whole lot better. 

Having no fear is great, but having no choice is really no picnic.  When given the choice, I want choice, even if that means dealing with a bit of anxiety.   And from here on out, I promise I’ll get my check-ups every six months.  Memo received.

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5 thoughts on “Fear, Choice & Good Dental Health

  1. Janet May 1, 2011 / 10:08 pm

    Despite whatever issues he may have had with the truth of his narrative, James Frey’s account of his non-novocaine route canal in “A Million Little Pieces” is hands-down one of the most harrowing literary passages I have ever read. I was sweating and white-knuckling the book by the time I was done. Glad you’re feeling better.

  2. Jamie Walker Ball May 2, 2011 / 1:05 am

    Thanks, Janet. I was numb from my chin to my eyebrows and I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I’ll have to dig that book out and re-read that passage so I can again thank my lucky stars that my experience was actually pretty easy.

  3. C.H. May 2, 2011 / 3:52 pm

    Tooth pain. The thought makes me squirm. Be careful with the tooth aches. In this modern age, it is easy to forget our ancestors were known to die of these things from time to time. I’m glad to hear you’re on the mend 🙂

    • Jamie Walker Ball May 2, 2011 / 6:03 pm

      Thanks, C.H. Yes, I have learned that these tooth infections are not to be trifled with. And yes, I am also very happy to be feeling ever so much better. Better living through chemistry (and through having a tiny hole drilled in your tooth…)

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