“I’m Allergic To Pain”

September 2007

By: Dr. Scott R. Harden

My father always used to say there are two kinds of people in this world; do-ers and procrastinators. Procrastination is the act of putting off or deferring a task that could be done presently to a later time. I had a very good introduction to the word procrastination during my teenage years. I received instructions from my dad to cut down an entire row of ten to fifteen 20-foot pine trees that were palisading down the left side of our house. The roots of those trees had become invasive and were cracking our driveway.

The fatherly look of admiration upon my dad’s face just prior to leaving for work transformed into a retched scowl and look of sad disappointment when he returned from work later that day. Why were the trees still standing? The explanation of disappearing for the entire day to go ride on my friend’s new mini-bike just did not capture his sense of forgiveness. Given the choice between a spanking (back when those were given out) and a two hour lecture regarding the topic of procrastination, I would have chosen the spanking. I realized the trees needed cutting down. I had truly cut them down in my head quite well. I just didn’t actually get around to doing it. I figured I would just cut them down the next day; no big deal. But that was when the tree shredder truck showed up at 8am and charged my dad $75.00 for a trip charge even though the trees were still standing. That did not go very well either. Oh, and the three friends he had hired to carry the wood to the street for the shredder service, who also came by the same evening I didn’t chop down the trees, they weren’t too happy with me either. How was I to know all these people were involved? My dad didn’t tell me. But as you guessed by know, that was not information I really needed to be privy to anyway. Eventually, the words did come out of my mouth, “I’m sorry I procrastinated and wasted all those people’s time”. The letters of apology I had to write were not any fun either.
Years later I can tell you that single experience shaped my life more than I could ever imagine. I never put off ‘til tomorrow, what I can do today. This sets up a great sense of accomplishment in your life and adds great satisfaction as well. Procrastination leads to anxiety, stress, guilt, loss of productivity, and a contagious atmosphere to co-workers and others around you.

My introduction of “procrastination” into this article correlates to how a person deals with their dental care. Here’s what I call the dental facts of “two”: brush for two minutes, brush and floss two times a day, and go to the dentist two times a year for regular check-ups. Do you follow these fundamental facts for your dental health care that we all know so well, or are you a procrastinator? For some it may not make a big difference, but for others it may be catastrophic – which one will apply to you? It’s hard to tell.

Just a few days ago, Jim came into the office because he was in pain. Jim had not been to the dentist for several years and by definition was a procrastinator. Jim bit down and broke a tooth and enhanced his procrastinator title because he waited many months before coming into the office for an evaluation of this tooth. Ironically, the first words out of Jim’s mouth were “I’m allergic to pain”. What is ironic about this? Jim had been living with pain for months and was more worried about the pain he may receive at the dentist than the pain he was living with every day.

Does this sound familiar to any of you? I know for fact many of my patients break teeth and wait a long time to call. They inappropriately live in pain hoping it will go away, and when the pain is just too much, they finally come in. Broken teeth don’t always hurt, and whereby the body is great at adapting to pain, called “tolerance”, it may render a problem painless in a short time. A broken tooth does expose soft areas beneath the enamel that can allow decay to spread very rapidly and cause serious consequences.

What about Jim? Well, his tooth was fractured vertically in half directly through the roots. In fact, upon looking up into the fracture site, I could see his sinus. That was overwhelming even to me. What caused the fracture? An old metal filling had broken and his bite then eventually cracked his tooth in half. This could have been prevented, but extraction now was the only course of action for this tooth. What could be worse? The fracture had caused a large abscess that spread to the adjacent cuspid over months and caused the nerve of this tooth to die. This meant root canal therapy was also required.

There is a message here somewhere. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Jim was allergic to pain. But between nitrous oxide analgesia and computer anesthesia, he breezed right through his challenging treatment. These teeth showed in his smile, which required careful color matching procedures and good communication with the lab, so that his smile gleamed as it always had in the past.

Don’t procrastinate about going to the dentist. What is a minor need today can very well be major need later. Visit your dentist regularly. Are you a do-er or a procrastinator? My dad’s question lives on?