A Routine Visit

A Routine Visit by Robynn


There really is no such thing as a routine visit to the dentist, or to anywhere for that matter. Every experience is rooted in a bigger story and that changes things. Yesterday I went to the dentist for a filling. This should have been a routine visit, a simple procedure, but I was full of anxiety and fear. It might be because my own personal dental history is full of the stuff of spy movies: political intrigue, characters who disappear in the middle of the night, scenes that mirror torture, long bus rides, foreign currency, dark rooms. It seems like none of my visits to the dentist have ever been routine.

Growing up in a boarding school tucked up and away in the Himalayan foothills just north of Islamabad (Pakistan) meant we had no easy access to dentists and dental care. Brushing our teeth was mandatory. Toothaches were taken to the school nurse. She’d poke around in our mouths and determine whether a trip to the dentist was necessary. The dentist office was a two hour ride down the winding hills from Murree to Islamabad. It was an endurance test at the best of times. Tooth pain and motion sickness don’t marry well. Those trips to the dentist were often unbearable.

At some point in my childhood it was determined that I needed orthodontia. My parents decided on the renowned Dr Bhajva. She shared a practice with Dr Zafar Niazi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s personal dental surgeon. One day we showed up for an appointment and there were a strange and mysterious hush over the office. Dr Niazi, previously arrested while Bhutto was on death row, had now gone into hiding. On another routine dentist visit we had made the trip down the mountain to see Dr Bhajva, only to discover that she too had disappeared. Her self-imposed exile didn’t last long but it did interfere with my braces being adjusted!

A few years later when I was in high school I developed a toothache. The school nurse, then the lovely Miss Njaa, took me to the nearby Military Hospital to see the dentist they had on staff. It was a dark nearly empty room with a single dentist chair in the center. Maybe the melodrama of the moment has altered my memories, but I seem to recall a single naked light bulb hanging by a wire over the chair. The dentist determined that would I need to have the tooth in question extracted. Miss Njaa asked if there would be anesthesia. Yes. Yes. No problem. She stood by me kindly, offering reassurances, while the dentist left the room to prepare for the procedure.

Upon his return he brought several assistants with him. One of them sprayed a fine mist into my mouth. Miss Njaa explained this must be a numbing liquid before they gave me a shot. Much to our surprise that spray was all the numbing I would get. Each of the assistants stepped forward and held down a limb. When Miss Njaa and I began to protest, the dentist stepped in with a stainless steel tool of some kind and reached into my mouth. He worked hard, straining, pushing, pulling, grabbing. I tried not to panic. The assistants kept my limbs out of the way. Miss Njaa, completely out of control and out of her element, repeatedly asked them to stop. After much effort, the dentist successfully removed my tooth. He packed my mouth with cotton and it was over.

It was just a routine visit to the dentist!

Each of our lives are rooted in a broader story. Capped with history, filled with memories, these experiences of the past colour our present day moments. Yesterday I admitted to Dr Smith, my dentist, that I was anxious about getting a filling. She sat back in her chair, took her mask off, and asked if I knew where that anxiety was coming from. I briefly told her the story of my visit to the Military Hospital in Murree. Her eyes grew round and large. Her eyebrows inched up her forehead. She shook her head slowly and said, “Oh my. That will do it!” She promised to be gentle and she was. She checked in with me several times, making sure I was okay. Hearing a snippet of my story increased her empathy and care.

It was a sweet reminder to me to inquire after each other. We have stories that make up who we are. Pulling a moment out of context might provoke us to roll our eyes: It’s just a routine visit to the dentist! Dr Smith asked after my fears. She cared enough to remove the mask and sit a few moments. It didn’t take a lot of time, but it meant the world to me, and it changed my experience in the chair.

 After all, it really was only a (slightly redeemed) routine visit to the dentist!


“Yes Dr. Walker…Of Course I Floss!”

If you polled a group of people and asked them if they lie to their dentist I think you would get a 100% response rate of “Yes!” The minute I walk into the dentist’s office my moral compass changes and anything is allowed.

When was the last time you had a check up?

Oh, I think it was last year some time

Oh, really? We don’t have it on record


OH…that’s funny! I could have sworn it was last year….maybe I went to that other dentist”  ….And then the dreaded question that you know will come:

Now” pause “Do you floss regularly?

Yes Dr. Walker….Of course I floss” And then the dentist looks and knows I’m lying.

Silence. The silence holds all the condemnation that can possibly fit in a single room. As my brother once said “If dentists were priests or pastors, churches would be empty” Imagine the first thing a pastor or priest says to you every week “Did you sin?” And the minute you open your mouth, he/she knows you’re lying.

There is a fear and dread about going to the dentist held by women, men, and children world-wide. No matter how much you’ve brushed and flossed, it’s never going to be good enough! Plus there’s always something we are worried about. The dull ache coming from the wisdom tooth; the spot that bleeds every time we brush; the dread that we have to finally get that crown completed – the temporary one having lasted five years longer than was planned.

And then I think about my brothers’ statement and I wonder about the church “Is that how the church is perceived? As a place where nothing you do is good enough? Where there is a dread and fear? Where condemnation hangs heavy like the silence in a dentist’s office?” And I know that the Church, made of imperfect people, sometimes fails miserably.

I had a visit to my dentist last week. I have grudgingly begun to trust (dare I say even like?) this man. He is practical, clear. and laid back. He accepts me where I’m at and takes it from there, with the gentle challenge “Perhaps you could try this. When you’re ready we could talk about that…”  And I realize that had I stopped going my teeth would be hurting and I would not be healthy.  So can churches be given another chance as well?  To get it right, develop a relationship and gently challenge?

Many people feel like they’ve given the Church that chance, and the Church has failed them repeatedly. I know becaus I used to be one.

Like the dentist, I continued going back. I’m gradually learning and growing; slowly trusting this entity that Christ loves so deeply.

It’s not easy, but neither is going to the dentist and the outcome is ultimately more serious. My journey with the Church has not been easy, but I have learned to honor the struggle and trust the author of the journey.

Dr. Walker was good preparation for a much more important journey. 

You can read more on my journey with the church here.

Blogger’s Note: Remember the Book Giveaway! Invite your friends and family to read and comment or leave a comment yourself! All will be entered into a random drawing for the give away of three of my favorite books!