My 13-year-old daughter, Pearl, is lying in the dentist’s chair. Her head is down low as the dentist leans over her.
I stand just outside the room at a safe distance. Her dad normally accompanies her on these visits, but today the duty has fallen to me. I try to keep my breathing even, try to keep myself from running out of the building. I know the panic I’m experiencing is unwarranted. It’s not even me in the chair! I try to stay calm, for Pearl’s sake.
The dentist finishes his exam and lets her sit up. “Your teeth look great,” he says, replacing his instruments on the tray. “Just one little cavity to take care of. You can schedule the appointment on your way out.”
Pearl keeps it together for the staff. But when we close ourselves into the car, she erupts, crying and shaking. “I can’t do it! There’s no way!” she wails, tears pouring. Her eyes are wide with a primitive fear that I know well.
I watch her in dismay. I’d hoped my daughters might escape the scourge of my dental phobia. As if it were a virus, I’ve tried not to pass it on. They drink fluoride-infused water and have beautiful, strong teeth, inherited from their father. Until now, there’s never been an issue.
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The first time I allowed a tooth to crumble in my mouth, I was in fourth grade. Little shards kept getting in my food when I chewed. With my tongue, I could feel that the tooth was becoming jagged and shrinking in size. That’s strange, I…