The most patient man in the world: My dentist

OCD and dental obsession

As some of you probably know, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is comprised of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are defined as “unwanted worries, images, thoughts, or urges which are prolonged and distressing”, some of which can plague the mind of OCD sufferers for the majority, if not the entirety of their day. Compulsions are behaviours which OCDers carry out in order to seek relief, reassurance or solace from the obsessions (when in actual fact, the behaviours just feed the parasite that is OCD).

There are thousands of examples of obsessions and compulsions that I, and many other OCDers have experienced, but today I will be writing about DENTAL FEAR (dun dun duunnnn…my teeth hurt even after a paragraph).

I’ve always had OCD, but it didn’t become unbearable until my early twenties. I feel blessed that OCD allowed me to at least live out my teen years as the carefree and wild little shit that I was, without the constant fear that I had somehow contracted an undiscovered virus or that I might murder my dogs in my sleep (I’ll elaborate on this one another time…)

One memory which has stayed with me for years is from when I was 23 years of age, and I was staying at my then-boyfriend’s flat. I had been cleaning a small, foot-squared part of his wall under a window (quite obsessively, if you can believe it) when I felt a pang in one of my molars.

I believe that most people would hardly react to this. At most they might grab their jaw or poke their tongue gently into their tooth. BUT NOT I. I DON’T DO THINGS BY HALF, MY DEAR OBSESSIVE FRIENDS. I spent the next two hours, face pressed against the mirror, craning my jaw wide open and poking around all of my teeth thoroughly. I think I might have also been crying uncontrollable at the same time…try not to fancy me when you picture this guys. I can’t remember what or who managed to pull me out of the hours-long repetitive compulsion on this occasion (cake and/or sex can sometimes manage to break the spell), I just remember the very raw emotional agony that I was in and the fact that it confused and scared me.

Fast-forward a year to 2016. The aforementioned boyfriend has gone to Australia for work for three months, and I’m experiencing exam stress. I’m basically OCD’s lil bitch at this point due to these amalgamated circumstances. Stress and OCD combine to make a serene, synergistic concoction – much like forks with electricity sockets, or baths with hairdryers.

It was a Wednesday, I was off college for the day and I was revising on my bed. My teeth took the opportunity to chime in and started aching and vibrating in my head. My brain was filled with the feeling of my teeth all crumbling out of my mouth entirely and I found myself in a petrifying state of panic. Sweating buckets, pulse-racing, stomach-wrenching panic. I called my mum and told her I needed her to come home as soon as she could. I needed some kind of comfort or relief from the terror and anxiety.

My mum came home and calmed me down with some controlled breathing and a cup of tea (I am indeed British, if you’re wondering) and I decided on the spot that I wanted to quit smoking so that I could preserve my teeth in any way possible. I guess this was a happy little by-product of OCD in the end because I haven’t gone back to the addiction since.

That week, I booked an emergency appointment with my dentist and calmly explained the situation. By ‘calmly explained’ I mean I flew into his office like a bat out of hell and started to cry whilst wailing gobbledygook in his face (not much of a crier, me).

My dentist seemed utterly confused at this outburst, but reacted with kindness and compassion. He reassured me that my teeth were fine, that they weren’t going to crumble, and that I’d been doing everything I could in terms of oral hygiene.

This process was repeated a number of times before my diagnosis and treatment, with a 5-hour Google reassurance sesh (very healthy) sometimes replacing a visit to the dentist.

I soon learned after diagnosis that giving into the compulsion (checking and poking my teeth) was feeding the obsession (the fear that my teeth were crumbling), and so I learned to stop rushing to the mirror with a torch every time I remembered that my teeth existed.

It’s still a challenge to this day, and I find mirrors can be a bit of a test for me for this reason. My tongue still pokes itself around my teeth more than it should, and some days it still gets me down. I’ve learned not to give into the OCD however, and now when my teeth feel like they’re vibrating or they hurt, I distract myself with something completely unrelated.

Recovery is a lengthy process.  I understand that OCD will always be on my shoulder, and therefore dental obsessions and compulsions are something I will have to actively keep at bay for the rest of my life. But I need to remind myself and my fellow OCDers – try not to think long term. Take each day, week, month, year as it comes. I understand my OCD might still be controlling me some days, but at least I’m not stuck to a mirror with my hands in my mouth like I was in 2016.

One thought on “The most patient man in the world: My dentist

  1. This reminds me. I used to take the bus daily through many parts of town, and our transportation system often serves the elderly and those without the greatest means (I was part of the latter for sure, I am not elderly- I was in my late 30s.) But i would very often see people with missing teeth. This became a reality to me, a real OCD obsession. If this was so common, when were mine going to start to crumble. Note- I was not of great means at the time so I could not see a dentist. So any time I felt anything dealing with teeth, I was sure this was it. I was going to lose them all, and then of course my “every eventuality” thinking pops in and “I’m never going to get a job, etc. etc.”

    Anyway, your post here reminded me of that time. And who knows, that may pop up again. I have yet to see a dentist since 2009. The reasons for that are a completely other story.


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