Siding with the scientific consensus of secular knowledge

So after going through a couple of bottles of Anbesol and walking around for a week looking like Caesar Rodney, I finally gave in and made an appointment with a dentist.

I’d been putting that off partly due to the financial aspect and mainly due to six very unpleasant years of orthodonture and oral surgery when I was a teenager. (Among other things, I had to have my fourth molars removed. Yes, I had fourth molars. It was bad.)

But I’m headed out to the dentist this afternoon because that’s what dentists are for and I need one. I’m going to the dentist because: A) She is an expert at this, and B) I am not.

So in Charles Fort’s terms, I am once again displaying my slavish devotion to the priestcraft of scientific experts. In Al Mohler’s terms, I’m opting to allow secular knowledge to trump sectarian ideology and thus, I suppose, rejecting the Bible. And Joe Carter probably thinks I’m only deferring to the scientific consensus of dentistry in order to curry favor with snooty Harvard intellectuals and East Coast media elites.

But the fact is that I’ve got a toothache. The tooth damaged years ago during the removal of the three supernumeraries behind it was neatly reconstructed at the time, but I was told that I’d probably need to get it fixed again someday. That someday, it seems, is now.

Faced with a throbbing jaw, I think it’s reasonable and smart not to pretend that I know more than the experts do. Right now, a bit of the old priestcraft of scientific expertise and the judicious application of wholly secular knowledge is just what the situation calls for.

And I’m not looking for a dentist who thinks of himself as a radical “skeptic” bravely bucking the overwhelming scientific consensus. I don’t even want to go to one of the 20 percent of dentists that I’m told still recommends chewing sugary gum. I haven’t been to this dentist before, but if she tells me that she’s a renegade contrarian thinker with a theory that toothaches are due to sunspot activity, or that the dental consensus is really a massive conspiracy funded by the floss industry,* then I’m leaving to find someone else who’s less of a renegade.

So contra Fort, Mohler and Carter, I will be siding with the scientific consensus of secular knowledge, blindly trusting their priestcraft.

I say “blindly” because once I get in that chair my eyes will be clamped shut.

Anyway, I hope to be back this evening to resume blogging. Possibly about Jell-o, oatmeal and room-temperature smoothies.

* The floss industry, I’m told, makes a mint.

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  • Jenny Islander

    I had a full-blown phobia of injections until I finally, in my teens, went to the dentist.  Luckily, I got one of the dentists who is trained in pain-free injections and in assisting people who are absolutely terrified of the whole thing.  They do exist.

    How good was he?  I had wisdom teeth in both sides of both jaws that would have to come out NOW or require surgery later.  He did them all at once.  After the initial injection, I did not feel a thing.  I had extremely deep roots, requiring him to keep repositioning my head and adjusting the chair; at one point he had to have his knee up on the chair to get leverage.  I still did not feel a thing except a sort of dull pulling sensation comparable to shoving one’s foot into a shoe while wearing wool socks.  I heard the distinctive sound of tooth hitting metal off to one side and said, “I’ a’ ‘y ‘oofh?”  “Yes, actually, that’s the second one,” he said.  I had had no idea the first was even coming out.  I was so blissfully numb that he went ahead and did a filling while he was in there to save me coming in for another appointment anytime soon.  And after the anesthetic wore off, while my jaws did ache a bit, my stitches itched more than that.

    Ask about pain management and ask about how they deal with people who feel extreme fear of needles and shots.  Sooner or later you’ll find a dentist who understands.

  • Anonymous

    I have really truly seen people respond to complaints about the expense
    of dental coverage by saying “Try brushing your teeth once in a while”.
     Apparently, in their world, if you brush your teeth you don’t need
    periodic professional cleanings and will never get cavities.

    I’m not surprised that some people think like this.  It’s really no different than those who think that if you eat right and exercise and live the right lifestyle you’ll never get sick.  Or that you’ll never need treatment for diabetes if you just put down that donut.  Or that you can avoid the flu by “boosting your immune system” with lots of fruits and vegetables.  Or that you’ll never need to give your daughter that HPV vaccine because she’s not a slut and she’ll never have sex except the 3 times with her husband to give you your grandchildren.  Or even that you can avoid being raped by wearing baggy clothes and not going out at night.

    Too many diseases are seen as punishment for living the wrong lifestyle.  It’s a harmful attitude, but really appealing to some people because it makes them feel like they are in control and that they can avoid all bad things if they just follow all the correct rituals.  It’s scary to think that sometimes bad things just happen.

    This is why I have mixed feelings about awareness campaigns.  On one hand, when there are risk factors that people have some control over, it can make people healthier.  But on the other hand, it more often makes people forget about other risk factors and feel invincible or look down on people who get the disease.

  • Anonymous

    I mentioned to my dentist that I hadn’t even felt the
    needle when it went in and he said that giving almost painless
    injections was a basic skill that almost anyone could learn if they
    wanted to.

    Phobias aren’t rational though.  For me at least, the anxiety about needles is far worse than any pain I’ve ever felt from them.  I can stand a little pain, but needles really freak me out anyway.  Giving painless injections is a great skill that every dentist should have, but that alone won’t be enough to stop needle anxiety.  It’s more complex than that.

  • Anonymous

    The only verse that comes up via a quick search seems to be in Amos,
    where Amos gives God credit for providing clean teeth to the
    Israelites.  Except that “clean teeth” seems to be a King James
    translation for “no food to dirty your teeth with”, so he isn’t really
    crediting God with being the source of good dental care but rather a
    source of punishment because Israel displeases him.

    Well, that’s because you’re not reading it literally. If you were a Real, True Christian, you would know that what that verse actually means in the literal sense (when cross-referenced with John the Baptist’s eating habits, and Leviticus 2:5-7, also parts of Daniel) is that God wants us all to be paying for our own dental care, not siphoning out of the pockets of Big Government, because lo! the dentist’s right to free enterprise is a God-given one, and woe betide those who believe that he shall not do as he pleases and call it right!

    Also, good luck and a speedy recovery, Fred!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve never been afraid of the dentist– was very lucky, though. After getting out of our mom’s custody (she sorta believed in the miracles of homeopathy, and that anything involving more than four syllables was unhealthy unless it was an herb) we went to the dentist who’d taken care of our grandparents for time out of mind. Personable, friendly guy who ran the practice with his wife, and was reasonable and gentle with five absurdly hyper kids. He also put the permanent fix on my two front teeth after I got hit by a truck, and while doing so told me the story of the time he had to do a filling on himself since no one else was there in the morning and he had patients to take care of, and couldn’t use anesthetic because he had to be able to feel what he was doing.

    Crazy, brave, and/or some combination of both. And an absolutely fantastic dentist. (But I still can’t afford to go get my teeth cleaned, so it is obsessive brushing and praying that my historically very strong teeth hold out for me.)

  • mmy

    Phobias aren’t rational though.  For me at least, the anxiety about needles is far worse than any pain I’ve ever felt from them.

    Oh, he wasn’t speaking to phobias, just the fact that needles should be painless. Phobias about needles and dentists are not about pain (or at least they aren’t caused by the actual pain but the fear of something ELSE)

  • aklab

    This was the wrong thread to read while I sweat it out before my afternoon flu shot. :( /needlephobic 

  • Lori

    My dislike of going to the dentist has gotten worse over time. I’ve never had any really terrible experiences, but I’ve had a lot of not at all good ones and the cumulative effect has been to make me moderately phobic about the whole thing. 

    It’s a shame, because my first few dentists were fabulous. I broke a tooth when I was 18 and had to have a root canal in preparation for a crown. My dentist was so good that I literally didn’t know he had done the root canal. I thought we were still in the “prep” phase of the process and he was actually done. Gawd I miss him. I would go back to him in a heartbeat if I could. Sadly, that was about 8 moves ago. 

    Of course, my phobias are a moot point these days. Like SisterCoyote I can’t afford to go to any dentist and I’ve always had strong teeth, so I just brush and floss like a fiend and hope my luck holds. 

  • Apocalypse Review

    I hear ya. *bbrrrrr* needles. Ick, DO NOT WANT.

  • You know, a lot of good movie, book, and video game writers understand that fear is not a emotion that a person has when they are being attacked, but rather fear is the emotion that a person has when they are made to anticipate that they will be attacked.  A scary story will bank on that, ratcheting up the tension to escalate that emotion and let it build.  

    I am thinking that the phobia of needles is something similar.  It is not the sensation of getting your skin pierced with a metal needle that causes fear, not directly, but the anticipation of that needle which causes the fear.  Your own instinct for fight-or-flight is being triggered by the thought.  

    I suppose getting a lot of needle injections over the course of a person’s life will dull that fear a bit though.  When a person is more familiar with the experience of it, the anticipation does not have as big an impact.  A person who knows what is coming, knows that they have handled it in the past and can handle it in the future, will on some level be more reassured, more practiced, less likely to trigger that flight instinct.  

  • I hope your dental appointment went well, Fred.

    And I also hope that one day I’ll find some good dental floss that doesn’t shred between my teeth and also doesn’t taste like mint.  I say that partly because I do get tired of having mint every night but mostly because that was a bad pun.

  • Around here, the only dentists who do sedation specialize in it and advertise as such. 

    While it’s great that people who just can’t manage without it have the option, it kinda weirds me out. I mean, however unpleasant one finds dentistry, full sedation is a major major thing, and every time you do it, there’s a chance thatm even if you’re otherwise healthy and have never had a problem before, something will go wrong and that will be it for you. Sedation being part of a routine health-maintenance procedure seems like it points to a defiency in our medical capabilities.

    I don’t know what’s up with it, but every time my dentist gives me a shot, it feels like he sticks the needle through my lip from the outside to get to my gums. that’s the worst part of it for me.  Well, that and the fact that he keeps getting confused between me and my dad, and so under-numbs me because of the heart condition I don’t have.

  • P J Evans

     Sympathy. But they can do it almost painlessly, if they’re good. (I. Do. Not. Like. Shots.)

  • Anonymous

    Well I have OCD so my experience might not be universal, but the reason I am so afraid of needles is because I can’t stop thinking about how something could go wrong.  I’m afraid that if I flinch or the person inserting it moves wrong, it will tear through everything.  I realize on some level that it would most likely just fall out, but I can’t stop thinking about it moving in deeper or going side-to-side.

    And yes, exposure can dull the fear to some extent.  One of the reasons that I donate blood regularly is to prevent my needle phobia from getting out of control.

  • RickRS

    Just me and my pigmy pony
    Over by the dental floss bush

    I have given up on dental floss and gone back to another product of the ’70.  Using a waterpik instead.

  • Tonio

    Many of them seem to actually make that distinction in their own minds, instead of just using the distinction as a rhetorical tactic. That’s part of what I meant about the Big Stuff being the domain of their god. And I suspect that such a distinction may be taken for granted to a large extent in our culture, where it would subconsciously influence Stephen Jay Gould in devising his NOMA concept.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    I imagine that, if they’re reasonably rhetorically savvy, your basic science-denier would make a distinction between being a practicing doctor or an engineer and being a physicist or a biologist, calling the former a tradesman and the latter a priest. 

    Pretty much, yeah.  “That’s not science, that’s TECHNOLOGY!  No connection at all!”

  • I’m reminded again of someone I once knew, who majored in physics in university and was a very strongly Baptist Christian. I asked how he could reconcile his firm notion that the Earth was created some thousand years ago with the theory of radioactive decay, etc that he would learn about, and his response was basically, “I’ll ignore that part.”


    As luck would have it, he ended up teaching at a private Baptist sponsored school where he happily teaches classical mechanics all day long and never has to touch that part of physics which might contradict his religion.

  • Since I have an allergy to most local anesthetics used by dentists, yes, this.

  • Rikalous

    just what the situation calls for.

    The “what the doctor ordered” joke was too easy, huh?

    Incidentally, I happened to like the mint pun. Of course, I think spiders and cephalopods are cute and enjoy giving blood because I get to watch it flowing through those plastic tubes, so take my appreciation as you will.

  • And yes, exposure can dull the fear to some extent.  One of the reasons
    that I donate blood regularly is to prevent my needle phobia from
    getting out of control.

    In my own life, I distinguish actual phobias from run-of-the-mill fears in ways that I am not sure are technically correct but seem to make sense to me.

    For me, fears are learned responses — learned either from bitter experience or simple knowledge. The fears diminish with repeated neutral-or-better personal experiences. Thus, I had a fear of dental procedures due to a childhood dentist with a heavy hand and crappy chairside manner, with hygenists in the office who thought that if they accidentally dig the hook into your gums, oh well, sorry, but they wouldn’t have to scrape so close to the gum line if you were better at regular flossing. Now that I have a dentist who gives pain-free injections (topical anaesthetic first! what a concept! injecting *slowly*! genius!), constantly checks on me to make sure I’m not feeling any pain, and will do something about it (with my consent) if midway through the procedure I start feeling *anything*, and the hygenist always asks “Are you OK?” if she sees blood or if she think she’s nicked me with the hook… oh, and then she tells me I’m a really good patient! which, rather than feeling condescending, actually helps heal that little kid in me who was told not be a baby! …well, I’m not really afraid of the dentist anymore.

    I think of phobias as being less rational. They needn’t have a traumatic source, they can evoke absolutely irrational and darn-near involuntary responses, and they don’t go away just because I’ve “forced myself to face my fears.” I class my fear of heights as a phobia because it has immobilized me from time to time — like, my muscles won’t obey my conscious desire to go for the next handhold in the climbing gym or leap for the trapeze while in belay harness. Can’t get the legs to move. And my fear of needles seems pretty phobic in that I couldn’t seem to stop myself from falling into screaming fits at the approach of a syringe at an embarrassingly late age (*coughcough* midteens).

    Of course, my idea of the term “phobia” does very much leave room for a learned response component. A situation in which a phobia expresses itself isn’t fun. It’s no good for my self-esteem, it feels like a personal failure, it represents something I can’t do, and then there’s also the problem of getting shamed by parents and peers alike for being a scaredy-cats. So I get into this ugly combination: I learn to fear the situation in which the phobia would arise. Argh.

    What others in thread have described as phobias diminishing with repeated experience, I experience rather as finding it easier to proceed despite the phobia. Although I can’t rely on the inner phobic response to diminish in intensity or frequency, I get better at controlling my outward response. So even though my skin is crawling and fight-or-flight adrenaline is pumping, it becomes easier each time to hold still and accept the vaccination.

    I started going for flu shots every year for much the same reason as bananacat describes above — it’s good to keep in practice with the whole “moving through the phobia” thing. The intersection of unlearning my fear of dentistry with learning to cope with needle phobia produces this weird sort of looking forward to dental appointments thing. Between the pleasure of feeling my load of fear get lighter and the pleasure of becoming competent at a thing — in this case, accepting injections “like a grown-up” despite the phobia — my last cavity filling experience was almost enjoyable. Weird, huh?

    Anyway, I wonder if my personal mental division between phobias and fears resonates with anyone else.

    I have this one friend for whom I know it doesn’t. She thinks I’m wrong, and that every phobia is essentially a form of PTSD, because there was a real and potentially identifiable T in my past for ever phobia I experience now. I told her I hadn’t had any traumatic experience that kicked off my acrophobia; she said, “Well, none that you can remember, anyway.” I think that’s a darn convenient way to construct an unassailable argument.

    …Gee, I hope this post has justified its length. I didn’t intend to go on quite this long. Oh well?