Richard Hyatt

Forced to face my dental phobia

When my dentist heard I was in the building he knew it wasn’t a social call.

From past experience, Dr. Robert Carpenter knows I think of a dental appointment like a date with the electric chair. So for me to walk in unannounced, something was wrong.

A few minutes before that I was brushing my teeth when a foreign object popped into my mouth. It felt as large as a golf ball and what I first thought was a tooth turned out to be a filling.

Instead of telling me to come back later, they offered me some aging issues of People Magazine before putting me in a room where a technician started probing.

Pretty soon, the dentist arrived. One thing I like about Carpenter is that he talks in terms a layman understands and he did not disappoint me.

“The only way we’ll save this tooth is in a mayonnaise jar,” he said, a description he did not learn in dental school.

I had dislodged a filling and the tooth was fractured. It had to come out, and hearing that made me white knuckle the chair and my heart start to flutter.

I acted like a wuss, but I was also grateful that Carpenter was able to see me, and that he had time to pull the offending tooth.

There wasn’t time for my nerves to get totally out of control. The technician started deadening the area and in moments the dentist was sticking needles in my gums.

“This isn’t going to hurt but you will feel some pressure,” he said. “Pulling this tooth will be like pulling up a fence post. I’ll twist it some before I pull it.”

While we waited, we talked about people of my generation harboring fears of the dentist. When I first went to a dentist back in the dark ages drills were slow and loud and smoked like a chimney. More than anything there was pain.

I’d like to say I left there with a smile but Carpenter wasn’t able to pull the tooth. I have an appointment this week with a surgeon who will finish the drill while I’m under sedation.

I guess I need to bring my own mayonnaise jar.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at