The Tooth About Boundaries…


Sat in the dentist waiting room I had no idea the events that were about to unfold and the involuntary response my body would have.

I’ve never had a great relationship with my dentist – I’ve accidentally unregistered myself twice by avoiding the dentist entirely. The first time I went to the dentist as an adult for a check-up I was absolutely mortified that I needed my first filling. The shame was palpable as the dentist looked into my mouth and made no secret of the state of my tooth. From then on, I avoided the dentist at all costs, not wanting to re-live the judgment again. Ironically, by avoiding the dentist entirely I signed myself up for more dental problems! But none as bad as this last visit.

I chipped my tooth the other day. That was just the beginning.

I reluctantly went to the dentist’s surgery on my way to work to book an appointment – they’d unregistered me again.

‘Sorry, your account has lapsed, It’s been three years!’ The familiar pang of judgment hit as I muttered ‘Yea, lockdown sorry.’ A clickety-clack of keys and the secretary announced she couldn’t give me an appointment but would ring later to see if one became available.

Shortly after nine, miraculously, a private clinic appointment opened – with a private appointment price that I had to pay over the phone before my appointment was confirmed. I was less than five minutes in the chair. The dentist declared it a ‘small chip,’ that was ‘easily fixed,’ for the princely sum of … yet another non-NHS available, private appointment.

Please don’t read me wrong, I’ve nothing against private appointments but…

Here I am in the same chair I’ve sat in as a kid and not paid, and the chair I’ve sat in as an adult and paid NHS prices, but suddenly the same service was private? How does that work? I was also given the choice of a silver fix or a white one, something they don’t offer on the NHS anyway – apparently the don’t get given a choice.

So, off I trotted with a temporary filling and an appointment for the following day. And here we meet again – sitting in the waiting room on a black folding chair, waiting for my appointment.

Red flags should have been flying high when the dentist asked me IF I wanted an anaesthetic, yes – IF.

I absolutely do want an anaesthetic por favor! You think I’m silly enough to NOT have one!? She brings out a comedy-sized needle, injects me and sends me off to the waiting room to numb up. With my track record – I’ve had a tooth out before – I’m kind of familiar with what the numbing feels like and this time, while I was going numb, it didn’t feel as numb as it had previously.

I told the dentist this. She proceeded to drill anyway. I yelped as I very much FELT her drilling into my face! Deciding that I hadn’t waited long enough, she sent me back into the waiting room, that’s when the shakes started. I took some deep breaths putting it down to shock. Then I got called in for the second time.

The dentist poked at my gums to see if the injection had worked, ‘Can you feel that?’ she asked. ‘Yes I can,’ I clearly responded, but she picked up the drill anyway!

I’ve never been afraid of the dentist – but sat in the waiting room for a THIRD time with a SECOND injection in my mouth because she hadn’t believed me I’m starting to cry. I do not cry in public.

She then called me back in – and tried again.

Side note: When you’re panicking and tense, not being listened to as you tell the nurse that in fact your face isn’t numb, saying ‘I barely touched your tooth,’ isn’t much comfort when you’re clearly in pain!

Among the few other comforting phrases were things like:

  • ‘You’re not going to want to visit me ever again are you!’
  • ‘Are you normally this sensitive?’
  • ‘We can take a break if you want, just let me know,’ I would if you weren’t in my mouth and I could speak.
  • ‘You’re going to feel very numb this evening!’
  • ‘Don’t worry, we’re here until 5 so we’ve got another hour to get it done.’

When I was sent back to the waiting room with a third injection in my mouth, I was visibly shaking and couldn’t care less who saw me crying.

On my fourth visit to that little room – I wasn’t particularly listened to and didn’t feel at all believed – As I yelped in pain again, she stopped, I was crying, and angry and just said, ‘Just get this over with.’

Trying to control my breathing, shaking and gasping she eventually switched drills, apparently that was a better option?! And finished the drilling as fast as she could. I’ve never shaken so involuntarily before and It was obvious it was happening – but ignored.

When she finished up her condescending: ‘Oh well done, you made it, it’s over,’ was of no comfort whatsoever!

I could not get out of that chair fast enough, she asked if I always got this nervous at dentist appointments. I said no! She said a light ‘Oh well, I’m sorry it happened like this today.’ I’m in blind tears at this point – not wanting to hear the aftercare – just needing to retreat to my car and burst into tears.

And now I’m home with a fat lip and the sneaking suspicion I’m going to be in pain when the anaesthetic wears off. But one thing for sure, take my name off the list, unregister me and delete my number, I’m not going to that dentist again!

And for this marvellous experience, I paid the princely sum of £225!

What’s the point in writing all this? Is it just so I can have a gigantic moan? Partly. But it also brought to mind that there’s so much to read from people that isn’t words, and we’re seemingly losing the ability to listen.

In between each session in the chair I did not want to go back in at all, but I was stuck – the drilling had already started and my tooth wasn’t fixed so I could hardly leave. My body was shaking, I was visibly crying, and nobody said a word.

I’m thankful that I’d messaged my friend Anita as soon as I sat down to tell her where I was, and as the drama unfolded she lived it with me over messenger and sent me bible verses. ‘Psalm 91! You know that one, start reciting it in your head,’ among others.

It reminded me that pain and vulnerability are best travelled through together, and sometimes, the cause of the pain – needs to be cut off. I so wanted this to be a positive post about pushing through the pain and going back in again but I think sometimes, not always, we can decided not to go back to the ones that cause us pain – in this case that’s obvious! But in many cases in life, it isn’t.

How many times do we strive for the acceptance of people that cause us pain because we think it’s the right thing to do? Then in our going back and becoming continually hurt something is planted in us that damages us – sometimes irrevocably.

I’ve been reminded a lot about boundary setting recently, and the ability that we have to say no. It’s actually quite empowering, and also involves wisdom in knowing what to say yes to and what to say no to.

I guess my dentist appointment isn’t a very good example of boundary setting – the fix was an unnecessary amount of pain for a necessary fix. But may times we keep ourselves in situations and relationships that cause us unnecessary pain, for unnecessary reasons!

What or who are we holding onto that is causing us unnecessary pain that’s becoming and unnecessary fixture in our lives?

Pray about the situation and for the person involved and don’t be afraid to distance yourself if you need to.

What boundaries do you need to set?

Ask God to priorities the things he wants you to do.

Talk to a trusted friend who may be able to point out some boundaries you need to set.

Write a list of your day to day commitments to help you process.

Where have you voiced your feelings and not been heard?

Pray about whether you need to set a new boundary

Is there something you can do to communicate more clearly in future?

Can you talk address the situation where you haven’t been heard some other way – eg. send a message, invite someone for coffee, discuss it with a friend?

Pop some thoughts in the comments if you like and let’s share some wisdom (of the non-tooth variety!) together.

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