As I sat in the patient’s chair gripping the vinyl armrests, a mask-wearing dentist probed my mouth. Her findings nearly busted my jaw: Multiple chipped teeth, a recessed gum and six cavities. One cavity for each year I put off going for a check-up. I tensed even more as she injected anesthesia into my infected gum so that she could clean my teeth. All the while, my five-year-old child watched from the sidelines. I’d brought my cutie pie along to show that kids need not fear dentists.
Only a mom pretending not to have hearing loss should fear The Chair.
Lipreading dentists was impossible, so I delayed the tooth cleanings year after year. I wasn’t about to tell them, “Lose the surgical masks!” I was doing a good enough job wearing my own mask of pretense.
I spent six years delaying check-ups until a more convenient time. When I could learn to lip read someone’s covered lips. Or when a dental hygenist learned to stop making small talk with her patients. Or—TA DA!—when my hearing loss miraculously disappeared.
Each delayed check-up resulted in another cavity left undiscovered, another hole that ached and flared my anxiety. These holes caught up with me as I dragged myself to The Chair with my preschooler in tow.
“Have you noticed any problems?” the hygenist mumbled.
“Excuse me?” My nails dug into the armrests.
“I said,” she repeated, “do you notice any…”
The hygenist’s voice sounded heavily muffled behind her blue mask. I knew this was the moment.
I opened my mouth and blurted out, “Would you take that mask off?”
The words were simple, but it was painful to say them. I felt like sliding out of The Chair and fleeing for the exit. Me with my mouthful of cavities and pride intact.
But then I realized my preschooler was there. If I left now, so would my child. If I avoided dentists, so would my child. If I pretended to be fine (and not hard of hearing), so would my child.
I gripped the armrests tighter as the hygenist dropped her mask. Then I spent the next five minutes telling her the story of my hearing loss.