I’ve heard there are these mythical people who go to the dentist twice a year for cleanings and never have cavities or other issues with their teeth.
I’m not one of those people.
The other day, I found myself yet again in the dentist’s chair getting patched up like an old tire to limp along for another few months. It occurred to me, while I was doing my labor coping techniques to not think about the drill, how preparation for labor and birth can serve you long after the baby arrives.
Back to those labor coping techniques for a moment. If you haven’t experienced birth yet, here’s a good question for you. How do you cope with other challenging or painful moments in your life? Like say, not thinking about a dentist drilling your tooth. Or the hygientist scraping with their sharp needle tool by your gums – that – spoiler alert – can become more sensitive during and after pregnancy? Or what about how you handle stress in general? Do you want to talk to someone about the situation or would you rather retreat and be alone? Perhaps a shower or soaking in the tub helps. Maybe exercise and staying active makes a difference. Prayer and focused visualization, like imagining being anywhere but there in the stressful moment can also be helpful.
If you’re lucky like me, you’ll get to have a chat with your dentist about future plans to fix a filling or eventually get a crown. Much like I teach for my doula and childbirth education families, the BRAIN rule comes in handy here. What are the benefits, risks, alternatives, intuition and do nothing approach? In the case of dental work, the answer of doing nothing will mean possible loss of the tooth or cavities getting worse, so perhaps a better option for that would be to ask what my timeline is. How serious does this appear to be, and do I have days, months, a year? Especially if you are pregnant, there may come times when you need dental work done, and it’s not really feasible (or fun) when you’re 30+ weeks pregnant. As for your intuition, do you feel like this is something that needs closer attention, or do you feel comfortable waiting?
One technique that I use, no matter who the care provider, is to ask them to talk you through the procedure. If there is an element that particularly freaks you out, ask them to tell you when they’re done. I personally can’t stand when the dentist is using the drill, and I asked him to tell me when that part was finished. Many care providers want you to have a good experience, and they won’t know what you need unless you speak up.
You may wonder if my being a anxious hot mess at the dentist translates into taking all the pain medication options offered when I had my children. The short answer is, no. The longer answer is that I prepared for childbirth in a way you can’t really prepare for a surgery or procedure like getting a filling done. It’s something that is done to you, versus something how your body is meant to function. Therefore, the pain response is different. If my tooth has a cavity or if I sprain my ankle, the pain I feel is my body alerting me that something is wrong. The message my brain receives helps me realize I need to fix it or it will get worse. Going through unmedicated childbirth, the sensations of labor and birth are pain with a purpose. This is how my body is meant to function. Yes, it’s intense, and like my dental visits, has an end in sight, but the process also has the benefit of my body generating endorphins and other hormone responses to help process the messages and sensations going on. Had my birth experiences presented with other circumstances, I would make different choices including possibly using medication. And such is the same with my dental visits. Not every experience is the same, and you are not a bad person or a failure if you choose one option over another. Having someone who can stand by you and help you get through the experience can be invaluable and make a stressful experience a lot easier.
I will note, however, another aspect to both the dentist visit and our interpretation of the birth experience can be altered by one emotion: fear. Fear in both cases makes things more intense, and can present significant challenges to overcome to come away with a good experience. In both cases, an understanding provider equipped with various options, coping techniques, education including awareness of our options can reduce fear. I don’t know of any dental doulas (imagine the opportunities!) but in the case of labor and delivery, an understanding support person can make all the difference for an empowered birth.
This doesn’t just matter for you, it matters when you take your children to the pediatrician, to the dentist, if the school nurse calls, and more. Ask questions. Get a second opinion. Don’t discount your intuition. I learned this lesson the hard way when my children were diagnosed with lip and tongue ties.
Lastly, don’t forget to floss. 🙂