Those who suffer with odontophobia will find it ironic that the man who developed the electric chair, Alfred P. Southwick, was a dentist whose invention came soon after the patent for the dental chair, credited to Waldo Hanchett in 1848. While 75 percent of adults experience some degree of dental anxiety, it is believed that between 5 and 10 percent suffer from a genuine dental phobia.

I have made peace with the dental apprehension of my childhood and adolescent years. My first memory of experience at the dentist office was near the age of 11. Seated in the chair awaiting the procedure of a filling, I happened to open my eyes just as the dentist was coming at me with a Novocain-filled needle. Thankfully, technology has significantly progressed, but as I recall, that needle must have been at least 10 inches long! I was terrified, and he finally did the work using only a topical deadening substance.

Then there was the time in my late adolescence that the dentist tried using “gas” (Nitrous Oxide) to help me relax through the procedure. Apparently they had set the gauge too high, and I began hallucinating. With the small mask over my nose, and a thunderstorm raging outside, I had become convinced that they had locked me in the basement and strapped me to the chair. I began kicking, screaming, and was out of there in no time flat!

Think about it: have you ever looked closely at all those oddly shaped sharp instruments on that tray? Then there is the sound of drilling in the other room, the sound of suction machines, the hygienist wearing big goggles and a mask over half her face, and the patient tilted backward until the feet are higher than the head — they have you in a completely vulnerable place!

I have learned two important lessons over the years since those frightening days. First, the dentist is my friend! Franklin D. Roosevelt said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and that was true in my case. Communicating with my hygienist and dentist about my specific anxieties and needs helps them provide a much more pleasant office visit.

Second, and more importantly, is taking personal responsibility between checkups to do my part in dental maintenance. Regular brushing and flossing, along with an occasional poking and probing and scraping by a professional hygienist, will effectively keep me out of the other room with all the drilling and grinding and filling.

The same principles apply to many of life’s disciplines. Personal automobile care with periodic standard maintenance will result in fewer major repairs. A student’s ongoing study of the subject matter, along with daily class and homework assignments will enable him or her to enter exam day with more confidence and less stress. Lawn care, physical fitness, weight control — all of them improve by observing these principles.

For those who desire to walk in a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ, practicing the daily spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible reading and study, worship, fellowship, service, etc) along with intervallic spiritual pruning (John 15:2) guard against the need to be completely delivered or rescued from the taunts and lures of evil.

Whether it is teeth or cars or faith, there are no shortcuts. Regular maintenance and periodic checkups are essential to keep the simple issues from becoming complicated ordeals. 

Steven Callis is the minister at First Church of the Nazarene in Douglasville.

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