The fallacy of ‘Dentist Phobia’

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The hot searing pain shot up again and I couldn’t even grit my teeth and bear it. You see my tooth-ache had become even worse. Good ol’ molar, having served me faithfully for about twenty years was in dire need of repairs. And that meant a visit to the dentist.

I shudder at the very thought of seeing any doctor. It is just a feeling that I have something akin to saying that Maths is a horrendous subject and computers is no child’s play. I know that it is silly but somehow I picture a dentist’s clinic to be a kind of medieval torture chamber, ‘tar and feathers’ readily waiting for their next victim.

Nevertheless I promised myself to visit him this time and I went all alone; we Madrasis need no moral support once our minds are made up. The clinic was crowded and everyone seemed to be suffering. I settled in for a long and interminable wait for my turn. I tried my hand on having a chat with my neighbor, who obviously mortified by pain, chose to answer initially in monosyllables and then lapsed into silence.

The man sitting opposite to me gave me a baleful glance as if my mere presence caused him additional discomfort. He seemed to be set on the task of concentrating  his attention on me so that I would be reduced to cinders. And so I looked elsewhere.

But there was really no escape. I found myself viewing posters which accused one of neglecting one’s teeth that led to a variety of tooth ailments substantiated with adequate illustration and mind-boggling scientific jargon. As a diversion I sought to have a look at the magazines – alas the doctor seemed to favor improving his patients scientific knowledge so only medical journals were splayed on the table. The newspapers had been already appropriated by readers who did not seem to have any intention to part with them.

Well finally I was in audience with the doctor who gawked at my teeth. Sensing his critical gaze, I felt deeply embarrassed about their poor state of my teeth and tried to make a lame ol’ excuse that I have been ever so fond of sweets. I must have made no sense trying to speak with his dental apparatus poking my mouth. At the end of his examination I asked him rather cautiously whether things were really very bad? Fortunately for me he didn’t even deign to offer me an answer to such a silly question. I suppose that a doctor learns to be diplomatic early on in his career if he fancies to build a practice consisting of patients like ‘yours truly’.

And then we had many sessions and the place became more familiar and less grotesque. There was this very peculiar odor about it that I became accustomed to. My doctor was a good-humored soul and a skilled specialist. He saw to it that I never felt ill at ease. And so when I completed my treatment, I was very happy and wanted to thank him for his efforts. I began by explaining to him as to how my preconceived notions had turned out to be fallacious and way off target. He gave me a smile and mentioned that there was nothing much new about my views. “Prejudices have always been a source of trouble, eh?”

The article appeared under ‘The Middle’ column on December 16, 1997 in a local newspaper ‘Maharashtra Herald’ in Pune, India. It was horribly edited so I have referred to my original notes to give it a semblance of a narrative.

My dentist really fixed it up well, for the Molar has given me no more trouble for over 15 years now. All the same I don’t much fancy returning to a dentist clinic again. My old dentist has long since retired and sold out his practice. And I am not very sure of the treatment I will receive in the ‘aseptic’ clinics that mark the ‘professional makeover’ of the old ‘single-doctor’ practices. Possibly yet another prejudice eh? Still I don’t wish to venture out to learn the ‘reality’.

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