Are you sure, the dentist asked, that your tooth isn’t just hurting because last time you were here I mentioned it had a crack in it?
It was the third time he asked me the same question, each time phrasing it slightly different.
During that same appointment, that dentist told me I would need a cap on my tooth and possibly a root canal. But he still wasn’t convinced that the pain I was feeling didn’t originate in his power of suggestion.
I didn’t completely understand why I was so furious when I left the dentist office till I talked about my experience to several people and read the first half of Rebecca Solnit’s book Men Explain Things to Me.
The phenomenon of mansplaining is one most women know so well, we don’t even think about it anymore. It’s when men patronizingly believe they know more than women. Even when it comes to something as personal as what a woman is feeling in her own body.
Afterwards, I was angry with myself for not confronting that dentist directly. But I realized that this kind of thing happens so often, in so many different circumstances, that my passive reaction was one I learned a long time ago without even being conscious of it.
What I didn’t know at the time was that this cracked tooth of mine, tooth #14, would set me on a path that would transform my anger into a strength and conviction I didn’t know I possessed.
It was my upcoming trip to India that got me serious about getting the problem with my tooth resolved. I was familiar with the pain I was having. The last time I felt it, I had to have a root canal. I didn’t want to find myself in India needing dental surgery.
My first act of standing up for myself was to find another dentist. I had to pay more for another consultation but it felt good to me, like I was taking care of myself. Not subjugating myself to a dentist I didn’t feel safe with. And they told me that I could have all the work done before my trip to India.
I had the initial work done and all went fine with the new dentist. After a week I was still feeling the pain in my tooth, so I was referred to another dentist who specializes in root canals. That’s when I found out that the whole procedure would cost $1000 more than I had originally be told it would cost and that it couldn’t all be done before my trip.
I hung up the phone and felt a surge of power that started in my low belly and rushed up into my head. I suddenly had no doubt what I would do.
I called my dentist back and told her I wanted to have my tooth pulled.
This is not a decision I made lightly. Until recently I’ve had hardly any trouble with my teeth. The idea of having a tooth removed was a new one to me. Not something I would have remotely considered in the past. Yet I was sure, without a doubt, that this was the right thing for me to do. And I trusted myself.
My new dentist let me know (via the receptionist) she didn’t believe in pulling a tooth that could be saved (she didn’t take into consideration the timing of my trip or my financial situation, I have no dental insurance) but she would discuss it with me if I paid another $90 for a consultation.
I thought working with a woman dentist would be different. But the situation felt eerily familiar.
This time I didn’t stay silent. Without getting upset or nasty, I told the receptionist that I appreciated the doctor’s beliefs, but this is my mouth and I would do what I thought best for me.
I’m still not sure where this strength and my conviction that I knew what was best for me, over an experienced professional, came from.
I know it began with that original dentist. He was new to the practice where I had been going for almost ten years. The first time I saw him I had a bad reaction to him. One I couldn’t explain, but he triggered a fear deep inside me. I should not have gone back to him a second time, but since I couldn’t make sense of my feelings I dismissed them, telling myself there was something wrong with me.
Early on in life I lost my voice. Feeling that no one was listening to me, I fell silent believing my thoughts, ideas, opinions and words and images were worthless. After a while, I lost my ability to speak even if I wanted to.
Through the work I’ve done on myself over the past years, I’ve been getting my voice back again. My art has been an important part of that process.
I feel as if, through this experience and the actions I took dealing with it, I’ve conquered a deep old fear. A fear that kept me paralyzed, helpless and silent. A fear that made me mistrust myself and my instincts. That made me hand my power over to others who I perceived as more knowledgeable and powerful than myself.
I feel as if I used the energy of my anger, not to lash out, but to stand up for myself. To be honest and direct without giving any part of me away.
Next week I’ll have tooth #14 pulled. It’s in the back of my mouth, not very visible. I’ll also have the option of getting an implant sometime in the future if I choose to. But I know each time I feel that gap where the tooth used to be, I’ll remember what that tooth gave me. And I’ll feel my strength rising up from the bottom of my belly.