Not all people experiences it: the full blown sweating, extreme heart palpitations, chest pains resembling heart attack, symptoms of a classic anxiety attack, while in the dental chair. But I do and have for some time. Finally, now I know why. It's the epinephrine in the anesthetic.
Going to the dentist is at the very top of my phobia list. My Facebook status lines on the day of my last dental appointment read: "Today is torture day." And: "35 minutes till my torture session begins. Please kill me now," the latter of which led to one friend sending me a link to a suicidal bunny cartoon (very funny too, I might add). I do have a tendency to joke about just about anything, but when I write this stuff, I'm totally serious.
I'm not a wimp when it comes to pain. I've had more than my share of broken bones, ruptured discs, sprains, and torn ligaments. Not to mention two childbirths, one totally drug free. I have no doubt some of you have endured much more pain than me, so please don't send me your lists. My point is, I'm not that afraid of that long needle that goes into my gum and seems to wiggle around for five or ten minutes, followed often by another. Freezing works on me. I don't feel the drill. So why, I've wondered do I get these panic attacks every time I'm having a dental procedure involving a needle?
It starts with a surge of heat through my entire body, followed by heart palpitations and chest pain that lasts at varying degrees of intensity for most of the time I'm in the chair; and with the dentist's hands firmly holding me down by the mouth, visions of Nazis start dancing in my head.
Granted I have had some very bad dental experiences, involving prolonged pain that went on for months after a procedure. I've also had two dry sockets. If you've never had one, believe me I'd take unmedicated childbirth any day. A dry socket happens when a clot fails to form after an extraction. In my opinion, this is the most painful condition ever known to humankind (again, don't send me lists of other painful situations). During the first one, I walked two miles across town at three in the morning to get some morphine from a friend whose spouse had some on hand for cancer. The morphine zonked me out but I still felt the pain.
I also came out of a dentist once with a dislocated jaw. And another time, with a root tip still intact that finally was extracted properly two years later. So you see, I do have some reasons to suffer from dental anxiety that has everything to do with me and my past experiences. But I'm a relatively rational and optimistic person who can convince myself that things will be fine this time, and my current dentist has an excellent track record with me so far. So why aren't they ever?
Well on my last visit, I decided to ask the dentist if there was any chance the anesthetic could be contributing to my panic attacks?
"Well, there is epinephrine in the anesthetic," he replied. I was thunderstruck with this sudden revelation.
"You are kidding me," I screeched, suddenly feeling validated and exonerated from all my self- perceived weakness. I was not a sniveling coward after all. "You mean this is not all in my head?"
"Well, it could cause heart palpitations, but most people don't get them."
"But it could, right? You said it could?" Anyway you get the idea. So I did some research. What I learned seems worthy of a real news story, so here it is. You all need to know!