This Week in Dentistry

This afternoon it was back for week two with Don the Dentist (week one here) — this time to fill a cavity on the bottom, stage right. According to Don this is a “trickier” area of the mouth to deal in with more possibility of pain. From my side of the drill the most obvious side-effect of the location, at least at this hour, is that the nerves that get “frozen” for lower-mouth work also affect the tongue. So, 45 minutes out, the entire bottom right quadrant of my face feels numb, and I’m hoping that I don’t get one of those “hey, would you like to design a website for us for $1 million?” calls this afternoon as I’ll be unable to answer it with anything resembling normal speech.

I’ve discovered that at the heart of Don’s chair-side manner is to “over-promise and under-deliver” on the pinching, smarting, grinding front. In other words his “this will pinch quite a lot” never actually does. So waves of relief chemicals flood your brain, and everything is okay. So while I can’t say that I exactly enjoyed back to back cavity fillings (if we enjoyed it, we’d never brush our teeth…), I was far less terrifying — indeed not terrifying at all — than conventional wisdom would have you believe.

There being no Mel Gibson controversy for CNN to cover this week, I was left to watch blow-by-blow coverage of the recall of an American Airlines flight en route from London to Boston because someone on the “watch list” had been allowed to board by mistake. And bits of One Life to Live.

Apparently the decay in today’s tooth was more serious that the X-ray showed, so Don had to go in much deeper than he expected. So in addition to last week’s “don’t bite your cheek” and today’s “don’t bite your tongue,” I got an extra “this will probably hurt in an hour or two.” I’m hoping he’s over-promised on that too.

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Kevin's picture
Kevin on August 9, 2006 - 13:00

I wonder if there’s a chemical reason why Don’s practice is substantially less painful than other dentists I’ve visited (though I should say that Dr. Ray Wenn is excellent in pain management as well.)

When I say “chemical” I mean natural pain killers from our bodies; here’s my theory/speculation:

When told this will “pinch a little” we comprehend that and our bodies don’t respond with the release of natrual morphines from the brain (or somewhere). When the “pinch” feels like a jagged Willow-twig being thrust through a nerve cluster our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode which (I’m supposing) pumps adrenalin (a stimulant) into the blood — which would enhance pain under sedentary conditions.

When he says, “expect a lot of pain here”, (perhaps) our mind gets ready to “deal with” pain and releases calming chemicals which may be similar to those which are released in an animal of prey just after the struggle is determined to be hopeless (researchers have commented on the calmness that overcomes an animal when a lion has it trapped with no chance for escape — a resignation of sorts, but it appears trance-like and peaceful to the observer).

Regardless of all that, I’ve been drilled and poked by Don and I completely agree that he’s got it ‘down’ when it comes to pain managment. BTW: I alternately call him (in good fun) “Pain Merchant” or “Painless Parker” — google that.

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