As I was eating cereal the other evening as my before bed snack, I bit into something hard. I sifted through the contents in my mouth with my tongue to find a hunk of tooth. My tooth had cracked in half. I looked it over and thought it was a crown that was put on just last year. There was no pain, just a sharp tooth edge. I called the dentist in the morning to get an appointment so he could take a look.
    I am the type of patient who has huge anxiety about going to the dentist. I have had difficult times in the past when I have needed a filling, and I have a hard time numbing up. It usually takes several shots and then the test to see if I can still feel the pain. After a few tests, “Yikes! Yes, that still hurts.” As pain rushes through my jaw, my eyes water, my hands are clenched together on my stomach, and I am sweating. This is not a pleasant experience for me or for the dentist. I have left the dentist with a very sore jaw and actual bruising on my cheek because the needle hits my jaw bone like a punch in the jaw.
    I love to brush my teeth, morning and night, and even during the day. I love the taste of toothpaste. I love the clean feeling and fresh breath. But, I know I don’t floss as much as I should. Often before my exams, I try to floss like I should so I don’t feel guilty when the dental technician and hygienists mentions my gums are a little puffy as she pokes it with the sharp probe.
    I know they enjoy that poke. I am sure that is a punishment for not flossing enough. They encourage better care of my teeth and that it should only take a moment in my daily routine. Well, my morning routine doesn’t usually include flossing because I don’t like to floss. If I have something stuck in my teeth – apple, pulled pork, nuts – I rush to floss. But other than that, I really have to want to do floss and often don’t think about it before going to bed.
    Well, now I have an emergency visit, I haven’t flossed enough lately, I know they are going to poke my gums and test my tooth for sensitivity. I am not looking forward to this and actually seem to get a wave of depression over me as I head to the dentist.
    There is a smell that I notice as I open the door and it almost chokes me thinking about what is to come. As I am sitting nervously in the waiting room, I see another gentleman waiting, as well. He looked just as thrilled as I was to be there. The anxiety could have been cut with a knife.
    “Oh, hi Tina, you can come back now.” Great, it is time to feel the pain. Sitting in the chair waiting for the doctor to come in, I look around at all the tools and bits, and I hear the drilling sound in the next room. All of this is sensory overload – the sights, the smell, the sounds. I begin to sweat.
    The hygienist put a previous X-ray up on the screen, put a bib on me and the doctor came in and asked to see the piece that fell off. “Oh, that isn’t a crown, it’s a filling that was put in a few years back but will now need a crown.” He proceeded to look in my mouth and asked if it hurt, and I said, “No, not really.” He then put a cotton swab in my mouth to touch the tooth. I don’t know what was on that swap, but he made it hurt. “Yes, that hurts!” I started sweating again.
    The rest of the visit was a calming conversation about our farm. He must have seen my eyes wide open and the perspiration on my forehead. I mentioned that I have anxiety about getting dental work done. He smiled and nodded, “Yes, we have a note on your chart about that.”
    “Let’s try to make her next appointment easier,” he said to the assistant while she nodded. “It will need to be two visits,” he said. “One to prepare the tooth and the next to put the crown on.” I just put my head down like a scolded dog, two visits.
    As I headed back to the truck with my yellow appointment card, I was relieved he wasn’t going to work on it today. I will be able to go home and work on my flossing before the next appointment and prepare for the next two visits. Anxiety will show up again then, but for now I was glad to be heading back home again with my broken tooth.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots. They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin.  They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.