Meeting with God at the Dentist
How the dentist chair became one of the most intense places I encounter God.
When I was young, I made a lot of mistakes. Thank God I survived, but my teeth did not.
At age 19 when I was in Israel for a year, I drank a whole bottle of vodka one night on a dare and woke up in a hospital with no front teeth and no idea what had happened. As I looked around to ascertain my surroundings, I noticed the woman across from me staring at me. She looked like she’d been in a car wreck. And as my eye caught her gaze, she looked at me intently and gently and said, “Are you ok?”
That's when I realized I wasn't.
A nurse finally caught me up. I had been brought in unconscious and had my stomach pumped. I had two surgeries on my mouth to try to stop the bleeding and save the roots of my teeth. Whoever took me to the hospital also brought my teeth, so they were able to save them. The shards that were left of them anyway. She told me I was lucky to be alive and walked away.
I looked like I’d been in a horrible accident. All this from falling on my face. I couldn’t even remember how. I was humiliated and ashamed.
Completely alone, I shakily stood up to go to the bathroom. As I walked in, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Was that really me? My chin and one of my cheeks were so swollen I could barely make out my face. I had tiny pieces of teeth being held together by a metal bar – my four top, front teeth. Right there for everyone to see. I looked like I’d been in a horrible accident. All this from falling on my face. I couldn’t even remember how. I was humiliated and ashamed.
It took many months and thousands of dollars but my front teeth were saved.
It took another few years and some more drastic twists and turns, but I finally got to a place of healing. I met my husband and started having children.
Life was good and I didn’t think of my teeth often.
Until one morning, when I was newly pregnant with my second son, I woke to an unpleasant surprise. As I got out of bed to go to my crying toddler, I felt my tongue graze along my top teeth and two of the teeth moved. I felt panic. I knew there was a possibility that my teeth wouldn’t last forever. They had told me that when they had fixed them. Was I going to lose them already?
I went to the dentist. He took X-rays and gently explained that all four teeth that had been saved were now dead. I needed to get a bridge.
The work was tedious and intense. I had to go to the dentist about once a week, for three months. Every time I went to the dentist, ever since I had fallen on my face, I prayed.
Prayer has always been a part of my life. My father is a Chazan and prayer has always brought a sense of purpose to my life. Beyond what is in the prayer book, I try to talk to God throughout my day.
While I lay in the dentist chair, I closed my eyes and talked to God in a way that was different from how I talked to God regularly. Right after the accident, my prayers were packed full of emotion: “Please forgive me for all my horrible mistakes… please take me out of the hole I am in.”
Praying in the dentist’s chair made me feel like I had some sort of control over the discomfort. Most of all, it made me feel safe.
As I got older and farther away from that period of my life, my prayers got simpler: “Please grant us shalom bayit… please keep my family healthy and happy.” Praying in the dentist’s chair made me feel like I had some sort of control over the discomfort. Most of all, it made me feel safe.
And I needed to feel safe at the dentist. Because every time I had to get dental work done I felt I was being punished. Punished for everything I had done in my past. Punished for getting drunk and breaking out my front teeth. Punished for not being a good enough person. Punished for not being perfect. Sitting in the dentist chair, a rush of guilt, warranted or not, would course through my body.
These prayers emanated from a place of desperation, different than my day-to-day prayers.
My bridge was finally almost done. During one of the last appointments I was 14 weeks pregnant with my second son. I lay down in the chair with a feeling of excitement, though a bit trepidatious as always.
The dentist numbed my mouth and began to work. It felt like any other time I had been to the dentist. My mouth held open by all sorts of rubber contraptions, the familiar sounds and smells. It all felt normal. I settled in and began my dentist ritual; I started to pray, hoping for some sort of forgiveness that I had not yet been able to give myself, hoping God would keep me safe anyway. And I prayed for a healthy baby.
Then my thoughts were stopped short by excruciating pain. It started in my head and radiated through my whole body. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I looked at the dentist. Something was really wrong but I couldn’t speak. I tried clearing my throat. He didn’t notice, he kept working. I felt trapped. The pain was spreading and intensifying. I started feeling cold. I raised my hand in desperation. I held it there for what felt like forever.
He grabbed my wrist to check my pulse. Someone threw a blanket on me. There were many people in the small room now.
Finally, the dentist noticed. He stopped working and asked if everything was ok. At that point I started shivering and seeing stars. I don’t remember if I responded but I remember he looked scared and told his assistant to get help. He grabbed my wrist to check my pulse. Someone threw a blanket on me. There were many people in the small room now. I remember hearing someone say that an ambulance was on the way and they had called my husband and he would meet me at the hospital.
I didn’t really understand what was going on. It felt like someone poured ice water into my veins. I couldn’t stop shivering and couldn’t sit up. I held my stomach, hoping the baby inside me was ok. Hoping we were both ok. Hoping the dentist’s chair hadn’t actually seen to my demise, despite my feeling the need to be punished in it.
After what felt like forever but must have been a minute, the EMT’s finally arrived. I started feeling a bit better. By the time I was put in the ambulance I was much warmer. I was shivering less and everything seemed clear. I felt ok.
I spent the day in the ER. They ran a bunch of tests and everything was fine. They didn’t know what had happened. The consensus was I probably had a reaction to the numbing agent they used that day.
Two weeks later I was back in the dentist’s chair as they finished my bridge. I lay there terrified, praying to God to keep me alive. And before I knew it, my bridge was complete.
I have forgiven myself for things in my past. I have stopped punishing myself. I have healed even more. I have learned how serious life can really get.
Fast forward about nine years. Quite a lot has happened since the day my bridge was finished. My husband and I have had more children. I've grown a lot. I have watched my husband get injured in an accident which would completely alter our lives. I have watched my husband almost die. I have forgiven myself for things in my past. I have stopped punishing myself. I have healed even more. I have learned how serious life can really get. And I have become a different person than I was long ago.
And yet. Despite all of the years and changes, when I found out that a tooth on the bottom of my mouth needed a crown, I began to panic. This would be my first major dental work since my bridge was completed. As this different dentist in a different office told me of what he would need to do, I felt my palms get sweaty and my throat tighten. As I walked to the car, I realized I was shaking.
I spent the next two weeks preparing myself for the upcoming dental work. I prayed more. I kissed my kids more. And I kept telling myself, this was not a punishment.
At the dentist office I felt utter fear. And as I lay back in the dentist chair, I kept repeating to myself, This is not a punishment! The dentist numbed my mouth and I closed my eyes tight. I prayed that God would keep me calm and help me get through this. And I began to relax.
I felt a warmth flow through my body. A calming warmth that made me feel like I would be ok and that I could just relax. I kept my eyes closed and began to talk to God from a place of comfort instead of fear.
And we talked. For the whole hour. About how I don’t want to feel like I need to punish myself anymore. How I don’t want to make excuses for myself but I also need His help. I talked to Him about how I wish my husband could heal. About how I pray that my children will all be kept healthy and happy and safe. How I would love for my family’s life to be normal. I asked Him for forgiveness for not trusting Him more.
I say we talked because I felt Him communicating back to me, with the calming warmth that I felt in my body.
It was one of the deepest conversations with God that I ever had, in the dentist chair or out.
And before I knew it the hour was up. And after paying a pretty penny, I walked out the door, grateful for my meetings with God at the dentist.