I’ve had more than my fair share of dental problems. About five years ago, I had a period where practically every tooth in my mouth needed work, including two root canals. It was a hellish experience, going to the dentist every three weeks for three to four hours at a time.

Since then, I occasionally have to go back for small cavities, but I’ve been lucky. The last few times have been minor. Lately though, I had a sensitivity develop in one of my premolars. It was getting steadily worse, so in I went for an evaluation.

My dentist doesn’t like to use the word cavity, so he never came right out and said I had one. He did schedule me to come back the next day, which I took to mean that I had a cavity. So I managed to move my schedule around and came back over my lunch hour. He promised to work as quickly as possible so I could get back to my job.

The only blessing is that my dentist uses nitrous oxide to help me stay calm and “non-combative.” There’s a few minutes before he begins to work where I’m drifting away in the strange bliss of laughing gas with my headphones plugged into my iPod that are quite enjoyable. It takes your mind off the giant needles and drills that are about to unleash hell in your face.

Soon, he arrives to numb me, which is the second most unpleasant experience of the day, next to the drilling. It doesn’t take long, and I’m left to “get comfortably numb” for a few minutes. As soon as the novacaine takes effect, we begin the procedure.

A rubber bite guard is wedged into my jaw to keep me from clenching onto the dentist’s hand. Then my gums are packed with gauze. A spit sucker is dropped into my mouth, inevitably landing on my tongue, turning it into a parched uncomfortable mess. This is, of course, the point where the dentist begins answering questions.

Then begins the drilling. At this point, all I can do is breathe, try to remain calm and hope the novacaine doesn’t wear off. Breathing the nitrous helps, but not much. There’s no amount of volume on the iPod to cover up the sound.

Eventually, the drilling is over, and I begin to feel the shoving of the filling material into my tooth. The dentist sets the filler with some kind of uv wand. At this point, I think the worst is over. Except what should be a painless experience is now beginning to hurt. The novacaine is wearing off.

I raise my hand to indicate a problem. Thankfully, he stops to determine the problem. He injects my gums again, but the topical has completely worn off and I feel the giant needle as it goes in, twice. After a few minutes, I’m numb enough to continue. The filling is done, but the tooth needs to be “polished,” which means more drilling.

By the time I’m finished, I’m a swollen, bleeding mess. In spite of their efforts, my gums are bleeding heavily and I find a few shards of my now nearly rebuilt tooth in my cheek. I am put on oxygen to help me recover from the gas. I realize it’s much later in the day than I was promised, and am itching to get going.

I rush the tech into letting me sit up, then use the bathroom, so I can get going. I’m still slightly lightheaded, but fine to drive. I check for the dentist to see if there’s anything else, but don’t see him. I say a quick goodbye to receptionist, who doesn’t stop me from leaving.

I get back to work, still numb, and very late. I’m still numb at my afternoon meeting, but make it through the day. Later that evening, the dentist calls to check in. He mentioned how I left before he had a chance to follow up with me, but I explained how I was already so late getting back. He told me how he reshaped my tooth, which may change the way I bite. He told me to be in touch if I’m still having issues with sensitivity. I will, but so far so good, and I live to bite another day.