It’s been a while since my last installment of HypochondriACK!TM
Although the fear I present in the comic can easily be seen as whipping myself into odontophobia I neither have a doctor phobia nor have I ever had a bad enough experience during a visit to cause PTSD.* As far as the hypochondriac brain-game goes, the doctors office and a diagnosis, is the end. It’s until that point that you get to play cruel games on yourself: Symptom searches, what-ifs, and when you’re really lucky, phantom pains.
The phantom tooth pain I experienced is actually a recognized condition called Atypical Odontalgia. At least that was my after-the-fact self-diagnosis. All the symptoms fit: chronic pain in a tooth or teeth without an identifiable cause that may spread to cover wider areas of the face or jaws. This pain (being idiopathic and lacking pathology), is potentially immune to treatment. In my case I realized I had thought myself into a situation that could not then be escaped through further thought alone. My brain chose to believe I might have a problem (to the degree of manifesting actual pain), but would not accept I might also just be making it up (to alleviate the pain). It took an authority figure to override such stubborn programming.
Once I accepted that I had no problem, my pain vanished.** Doubting somatoform sufferers on the other hand can find themselves stuck, permanently, with pain they manifest despite themselves.
Being a skeptic, even of my own pain (not to mention a willingness to poke fun at myself), helped me get out of this one before it really turned into an ouroboros of self-destruction.
I had my first cavity just a few years ago. Before that, I had thought my teeth were pretty much invulnerable, and abashedly took care of them accordingly. Because my first “scary” dentist visit came so late in life, I had a somewhat more unorthodox reaction to the whole process. I was curious as hell.
(A little background: In art school I worked primarily in metal sculpture—mostly bronze castings. I am no stranger to tools that turn steel into a shower of hot sparks.)
I wanted to see what the cavity looked like on the intra-oral dental camera. The dentist and I nerded out over the UV-activated epoxy he was mixing to fill the hole he drilled. Oh, and then there’s the drilling. To me, the pneumatic rotary tool used to grind out a section of my tooth wasn’t loud or frightening, it was comfortingly nostalgic. That was a tool that I myself had used for hours on end. If you’ve ever used one, you know that you feel that tool in your entire body, even when it’s not in your mouth. The high pitched whine and vibration in my jaw was familiar to me. Even the smell of the newly pulverized tooth seemed oddly familiar to me.
Suffice to say, people think I’m a freak. The last time I told this story, I was looked dead in the eye and told, “You enjoyed it.” I’m not sure if that was exactly the case, but it was a fascinating experience for me.
*I’ve had plenty of procedures done, including the occasional cavity operation, but nothing disturbing enough to cause anxiety.