I have asked other’s how they feel about going to the dentist. The answers have been spread out, some good, not so good, some even down right traumatic. Some are happy to go because they like the way freshly cleaned teeth feel. There are those people who have never had a bad experience. Their teeth look just like the commercials I see on TV for toothpaste, chewing gum, or lipstick. Perfect, not a flaw in sight.
I want those teeth, I want that smile and especially I want to wake up with great breath. I want to kiss with my mouth as an expression of the love I feel in my heart.
I don’t want it to feel the way it does. I want to deny that my mouth has been violated. Every 6 months its cleaning time. I struggle to balance the needs of protecting my elementary aged Kimmy who doesn’t want anything ever shoved into my mouth again and the adult who needs those cleanings, fillings and exams to protect my mouth.
But having been a sexual abuse survivor I have flashbacks of being forced to do things with my mouth no child should ever have to experience. Previous oral rapes rush to mind as I submit to the lights, shiny metal objects, people with masks looking intently into my cave of shame. While I am in the chair, I feel like the child of 8 who is waiting for punishment for some unknown wrong, so my abuser will have an excuse for what he was already going to do. I remember being told to shut up, quit crying and having my mouth mashed and smacked as a way of being disciplined. Being forced to submit to the abuser, just because he was bigger than me. The man who supposedly parenting me and who really didn’t have my interests close to his heart. Learning to separate those memories from my 52 year old self who needs my teeth cleaned is hard emotional work. Really it is in my best interest now and I can see the difference. Its healing and protecting me. Especially since my teeth are not in the greatest shape.
My first dentist visit ever was when in 9th grade, the school nurse noticed my tooth decay. Since we were city kids, there was funding for dental visits from somewhere within the school budgets I guess. Honestly it never occurred to me to even question it. So I went to a dentist who lived a block away from our house when we lived on Maryland Avenue. He gave me a toothbrush, toothpaste and a mouth full of fillings. The school nurse gave me soap, shampoo and told me to let her know when I needed more. I cannot tell you how wonderful it felt to have a toothbrush and toothpaste. I felt ashamed we were so poor and ignorant, but god it was wonderful. To this day, I still love to buy all the personal hygiene products I can find. I have too much in my bathroom. A hedge against feeling 14 if I were to guess.
I love my dentist now. He is patient, not just with me, but with his staff and it’s apparent. He is also gentle. He makes direct eye contact with me. And doesn’t rush me. He explains everything that needs to be done and ask my permission to get started. He isn’t mean-spirited inside. His hygienist is a great friendly woman, who is funny, keeps everything moving along. She remembers where it is I say someplace on my gum line is going to be tender. She is respectful. Never touches a sore spot twice. She likes my new look of having some teeth missing when the partial upper plate is out of my mouth. Not in the humiliating make fun of me, but with a kind of tenderness that says she has seen much worse. I can joke with her about feeling like a Rufus, who needs to show up in a flannel shirt, overall jeans and some boots cause those teeth are missing now.
All of this to say, it’s tough enough doing the ordinary that others don’t think twice about, without having to be constantly reminded about how damaged I am from the abuse I desperately want to healed from, with not just a scar to show for all my work. But a certificate too.