Saturday, August 8, 2020 -
Print Edition


I JUST made an amazing discovery. Want to know what it is? OK, I’ll tell you. Dentists are nice. Really, they are. They are not sadistic torture teeth doctors with sharp pointy fangs. It is amazing what you can discover as you mature and get older. It took me a while to arrive at this new, enlightening piece of information.

I don’t know whether there is an official classification for dentist phobia, but let me tell ya, whether there is or not, I qualified.

When I was a child living in Jerusalem, going to the dentist was like going to an archaic medieval torture chamber. Seriously. Everything about the place gave me the shivers. Even before the drilling  and sprays began, the smell alone made me gag and uncomfortable.

The room was sterile and clinical and white, with sharp and pointy silver instruments everywhere.

It wasn’t always that I felt this way. There was a time, in my innocence, when I actually liked the opportunity of missing school and going to the dentist.

My first dentist was kind and lovely. In fact, she was so super cheerful, you’d think I was actually in Disney Land, not in cavity land.

I can still remember her extremely warm manner, see her perfect lipsticked smile and short curly black hair, and hear her thick rolling Russian accent.

Whenever we were done with an appointment, she would say to my mother, “she was such a good little girl, here is a lollipop for her, and she deserves a dani (chocolate pudding), too.”

Candy at the dentist?

I was thrilled. A shiny round hard red lollipop? My mother never gave us sweets. It was just chocolate cake on Shabbat and birthday cakes. Definitely never, I mean, never hard candy! Hey, going to the dentist was great!

THE only thing is, one day the decree was decreed. I had a cavity. Plus, there was some other trouble with some of my teeth. The verdict: I would need a root-canal (it may have even been a double root canal).

Little did I know what I was in for. By the time the next visit to the dentist rolled around, walking along with my mother, I meandered through Meah Shearim’s weaving streets with an extra spring in my step. A lollipop! I was anticipating sucking that sweet red round lollipop.

I innocently laid down in that chair. The dentist began her work. Sounds pretty routine, no? It was, except for one thing. No anaesthesia. None! Yep. I was having a cavity filled and a root-canal procedure in the same day without any anaesthetic.

I felt the vibrations of the drilling into my nerves. It was agony. The sounds alone shooting all around my mouth and into my skull felt like I was taking off in an airplane to torture land.

I was pinned down to the dental chamber and it was unbearable. I can still remember the feeling of breaking into a deep sweat, feeling the drilling and poking, smelling that smell! and seeing a lot of blood. It wasn’t pretty!

I left that cheerful and, on that particular day, very sympathetic dentist, shaking.

I have dreaded going to the dentist ever since.

Then we moved to America. It became routine to go to the dentist every six months. My dentist was very friendly. He had a good  sense of humor and asked a lot of questions.

I remember lying in that chair at his mercy, practically choking  on my own saliva, trying to answer his many friendly questions, or express a little chuckle to acknowledge his humor.

I got into the swing of going bi-annually for cleanings and everything. It was all fine and good. Until one day he announced he was retiring early.

This was many years ago, but somehow, ever since, my fear of The Dentist, kicked back in.

I kind of always chalked up this American dentist as a fluke nice dentist, and never dreamed that fate would reward me with a painless dentist twice in one lifetime.

And so, my dental phobia issues re-kicked in, this time with a vengeance.I avoided The Dentist like the plague.

Because I was so terrified of going to the dentist, no one had better oral hygiene than I. I brushed and I brushed. Flossed and flossed. But the day still came when I needed to see The Dentist.

By now I was convinced that part of the interview process for dental students was to hand them a piece of chalk and seeing how terribly, loudly, creepily and annoyingly they could scratch it against the board.Plus, some other select, torture training.

LATER, living in Israel, when I once was cooking and caramelizing hot sugar, I inadvertently put the spoon with the boiling sugar in my mouth to taste it. I burnt the roof of my mouth so badly that I clearly needed to go see a doctor or dentist, but I just couldn’t bring myself to.

I preferred to endure the pain I knew as opposed to hand myself over to a dentist and subject myself to being pinned down to that chair, the poking, the prodding — the unknown, dreaded pain.

A colleague just figured I wasn’t going to to the dentist  because  of lack of dental insurance. She offered to pay for me. OK, I realized that if my phobia  was qualifying me to be seen as a charity case, it was time to get over it. So I succumbed. My mouth was killing me, I went to Dr. Eli Prenzlau.

I braced myself.

Turned out, I didn’t need to. Boy, had dentistry changed in Israel! It was a different world! And you can’t beat Dr. Prenzlau.

But I hadn’t needed a cavity or any drilling, I rationalized to myself. So I remained firm in my phobia. Dentists were dentists! And so, my fear lingered. I figured I would avoid those sounds and smells that would bring back bad childhood experiences and not see the dentist until someday I would need dentures or implants, at which time I could dutifully show up at the dentist with a toothless grin.

THIS all changed when I had a toothache and had no choice again but to go see the dentist. Despite my apprehension, I pretended everything was fine.

I lay there  pinned to the chair, with my hands gracefully and nimbly crossing over, my hands forming a nice little bridge, lying calmly on my lap. Really, my right hand thumb was digging into the palm of my left hand (I am still waiting for my nail mark to fade).

What has finally faded, though, is my fear of dentists. I think I have overcome. I would still rather  sip a latte or cappuccino with a friend- — or do anything else, for that matter — than go to the dentist, but all in all let’s just say I’ve made my peace.

It may have taken me many, many years, but I now know dentists are not evil doctors or monsters with fangs; they are just regular, simple, good people like you and me, just doing their best to help us all expand that smile of happiness between our ears, be healthier, brighter and better.

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

Leave a Reply