Perhaps it was inevitable. My first cavity. I was sitting in the dental exam chair last winter for my usual cleaning when I got the word. “Emily, I’d like to show you something up on the X-ray. See this area of shading? It looks like you’ve got your first cavity.”
The disbelief. The horror. “What?! Are you sure? Show me again! Maybe it will go away if I immediately change all behaviors. Just tell me what to do! Anything!” When it comes to serious medically related realities, I’m calm as a cucumber. Defiantly calm. But for minor issues, I have a true flair for the dramatic.
I tried to make a case for other possible diagnoses, but my dentist remained steadfast. “You made it a long time without a cavity. But once decay has started, it won’t stop. This will only progress. You’ll need to get it filled.” Feeling defeated but also aware of the complete privilege of having had a lifetime of excellent dental care and insurance, I accepted my new fate.
Fast-forward a month to the original date of my scheduled filling. We were in the midst of the early days of the pandemic. The dentist’s office was closed for two months. I bided my time.
Fast-forward again to a recent weekday morning. It was a non-momentous occasion, but it still seemed worth celebrating. My first filling. My husband, Justin, drove me over. Our dog, Finn, came, too. Moral support.
“I know it’s really kind of silly. I know this is not a big deal. But I’m still kind of scared and nervous,” I confided. “What happens? How long will it take? Will it hurt?”
Justin, with both kindness and good humor, talked me through what I might encounter. “So, you really don’t know what to expect, huh? This is new for you. Emily, everything is going to be fine.”
He dropped me off and took our dog for a little nature adventure at a nearby park while I got the filling.
35 minutes later, Justin returned to pick me up. Finn, with his perfectly floppy ears, seemed especially encouraging that day, as if to say, “Good job, human! You did it!” I could only smile on the right side due to all the Novocain and numbing gel on the left (which I explained in all the work-related Zoom meetings for the next five hours).
“So, how was it?” Justin asked.
“I cannot imagine a more affirming tooth-related experience. They explained every single step and every tool,” I replied.
The dentist, hygienist and staff were incredibly kind. They literally talked through the purposes of every dental tool and showed me the sound it made. I felt entirely respected, valued and prepared. The process itself was not especially complicated. I wouldn’t say it’s comfortable to have people working in your mouth, but it wasn’t painful in the slightest. Mostly I just kept breathing deeply and thinking about how grateful I was for the people expelling my cavity and their commitment to patient care even in the midst of COVID.
Whether I’ll end up with any other cavities is anyone’s guess (a commitment to less-acidic beverage consumption would help). If I do, I’ll know what to expect: compassion and care. May we all treat each other, especially in vulnerable moments, with that same level of kindness.
"Holy Everything" is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor serving at the Southeastern Minnesota Synod Office in Rochester. Visit her blog at emilyannecarson.com.